September 18, the day Charles Lloyd's quartet began its current engagement at the Jazz Showcase, is a date with unusual significance for the tenor saxist. Exactly 35 years before, on September 18, 1966, he stepped onstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival (with a different quartet, featuring an unknown 21-year-old pianist named Keith Jarrett) and played his two-part suite "Forest Flower"; the recording of that performance, released in 1967, would make him one of the most famous names in jazz. Lloyd had already earned some notice, both as a strong tenor man with Cannonball Adderley and as a talented flutist and composer with Chico Hamilton's quintet, but the sudden success of Forest Flower thrust him into the center of the burgeoning San Francisco music scene--he regularly played Bill Graham's Fillmore, sharing bills with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, and his quartet's debut, Dream Weaver (released in '66), was supposedly the Grateful Dead's favorite record. Much of Lloyd's popularity stemmed from his ability to transport the stratospheric flights of John Coltrane into a relatively accessible context, less daunting than the bands that characterized Trane's final years. Lloyd withdrew from the spotlight in the late 70s, but returned to record for ECM in the late 80s, and in the past decade he's proved that he only gets better with age. His tone has darkened just enough to lend impressive weight to his fluttery phrasing and careening melodies, and his partnership with guitarist John Abercrombie--a fellow veteran of the jazz-rock 60s and a member of the quartet Lloyd has with him this week--has blossomed into a showcase of soul mates. The group's just-released Hyperion With Higgins (ECM) closes the book on its leader's nearly half-century association with Billy Higgins, who died earlier this year; it balances balladry with the kind of mid- to up-tempo material that was like candy to the unflagging drummer, who'd driven everything from Ornette Coleman's first LA quartet to a straight-ahead trio with Pat Metheny. To replace Higgins, Lloyd has tapped Billy Hart, whose similar versatility--his credits range from Herbie Hancock's first electric band to Marian McPartland's lacy trio--makes him too easy to take for granted. Friday and Saturday, September 21 and 22, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, September 23, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.