Charles Lloyd Quartet
Athens Concert (ECM 2205, www.ecmrecords.com)

Martin Z. Kasdan, Jr.

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd continues to push boundaries and play inspirational music. Back in the 1960s, he shared the stage at the Fillmore in San Francisco with artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Love and the Grateful Dead, while maintaining an acoustic lineup featuring then-youngbloods Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. Almost a half century later, Lloyd continues to challenge himself, his band, and his audience. After exploring a blend of Indian music and jazz on the 2006 release Sangam , Master Lloyd has now turned his attention to the music of Greece. One word review: exquisite.

Athens Concert was recorded last June (2010) and features Lloyd's current, all-star quartet: Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. They are augmented here by Takis Farazis on additional piano and arrangements, Socratis Sinopoulos on lyra (a bowed instrument), and the remarkable vocalist Maria Farantouri. Over the course of the two discs here, Lloyd revisits his early classic "Dream Weaver" and his more recent composition, "Prayer," written for his late friend drummer Billy Higgins. Two other Lloyd compositions are "Blow Wind," with evocative lyrics, and "Requiem," with lyrics by Agathi Dimitrouka. All lyrics, whether originally English or translated from Greek, are included in the booklet. The concert opens with the ethereal "Kratissa Ti Zoi Mou [I Kept Hold of My Life]," one of two compositions by Mikis Theodorakis. Lloyd's saxophone playing is like a warm ray of sun, with subtle accompaniment by his quartet and heavenly singing. Much of the concert is given over to the three-part "Greek Suite," incorporating traditional (even ancient) Greek music with modern Greek compositions and Lloyd's synthesis of styles. While songs such as "Dream Weaver" may clearly be jazz, this is not a "jazz album" in any standard sense of the word. Rather, it is a voyage through time and space. Followers of Charles Lloyd will appreciate this, as will lovers of world music and exploratory jazz.