Liner Note Author: Thomas Conrad.
Recording information: Rainbow Studio, Oslo (07/1989); Rainbow Studio, Oslo (07/1993); Rainbow Studio, Oslo (07/1994); Rainbow Studio, Oslo (11/1991); Rainbow Studio, Oslo (12/1996).
Photographer: Dorothy Darr.
Saxophonist and composer Charles Lloyd is a perfect candidate for ECM's Old and New Masters box set series. He is an enigmatic bandleader, soloist, and composer who has spent extended periods off the scene. Lloyd left the public sphere in 1969 after selling millions of records, touring the world numerous times, playing rock festivals and concert halls. He briefly re-emerged in the early '80s with pianist Michel Petrucciani, but reentered a life of meditation and study. These five albums, beginning with 1990's Fish Out of Water, mark the beginning of his permanent return to jazz. He'd obviously kept up his chops during his silence; he emerged on these dates with a new, more intuitive lyricism, steeped in blues and Eastern tonalities and modalities, and a fresh approach to improvisation that included a rich display of the tenor (and flute) traditions. These five albums also tell another story, that of the musical partnership with pianist Bobo Stenson, whose participation on these recordings is as essential as Lloyd's. Stenson's trio recordings and session work revealed him early on to be a brilliant soloist with a highly individual, crystalline voice, and as a consummate ensemble player. Fish Out of Water also features bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. Both appear only on this disc. Bassist Anders Jormin joins the band on 1991's Notes from Big Sur and plays on the remainder of these recordings. Drummer Ralph Peterson seems an odd choice for this second ensemble and wasn't nearly as a seamlessly integrated into Lloyd's sound as Christensen, although he does add a swinging tension and driving physicality to many of these tunes, "Sam Song" and the two-part "Pilgrimage to the Mountain" in particular. Veteran drummer Billy Hart joined the band for 1993's The Call and plays on the final three albums here. From the entry of his elliptical, ticking cymbals on "Nocturne," it feels as if all the quartet's roles are properly balanced. The interplay between Hart and Jormin is symbiotic, complementary, full of compelling ideas. Stenson's colorful, limpid textures create a complete rhythm section that not only plays with Lloyd, but co-creates with him. Together they cemented and grew out that quartet relationship on 1994's fine All My Relations, and brought it to culmination on the stellar, deeply moving Canto from 1996. These five recordings mark not the tentative return of a jazzman to recording, but the first new statements by a true master who has brought only a trace of his earlier voice into the new one. His latter tone is more mercurial, spacious, inquisitive rather than declamatory; it is nimbler and far more emotional, as displayed on all 39 of the original compositions that appear here. This is a truly worthy box for those who discovered -- or rediscovered -- Lloyd only in the 21st century; they are all essential parts of his mature catalog. ~ Thom Jurek