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Eric Harland

Saturday night the Charles Lloyd New Quartet played SF Jazz as part of his residency. Charles has been one of my most profound influences, since I saw his first great quartet, with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee, and Jack DeJohnette in the 60's at the Fillmore. (Opening for Albert King, headliner B.B. King, no less. Thank you Bill Graham). The New Quartet, with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, has been his primary vehicle since 2007. It is ironic, but probably not an accident, that the two most forward and contemporary bands in the world are led by elders: Charles Lloyd and Wayne Shorter. They have always pushed the boundaries, with exquisite taste. Charles was in brilliant form Saturday, it was perhaps the finest performance of his I've ever seen, and one of the very best performances I've seen from anyone. (Miles and Ravi Shanker clocked in a few). Many of the pieces started out as whisper soft ballads and then built to rock and roll intensity. (After the concert, Charles addressed the audience and reminded us that as a youth in Memphis, he played with many blues masters, including Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, Howling' Wolf, and B.B. King). They played through the changes of Autumn Leaves, without the melody, it became completely new. The final encore, requested by many in the audience, was Forest Flower. Like all forward explorers, I don't think he has played the song that made him famous for many years - like every note he plays, it was completely fresh and new. In the words of The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff: “Follow the career of Charles Lloyd, and you see a map of great jazz across half a century. His shows, full of momentum and intuition, perfectly represent the idea that the best jazz needs to be experienced live.” Charles's start in the big time was musical director for Chico Hamilton, with whom I had the privilege of playing in 1979-1980.
Once again I've been seeing so much great music I'm behind in writing about it. Last week the super group Sangam,which means confluence in Sanskrit, with Zakir Hussain, Charles Lloyd, and Eric Harland played SF Jazz. Zakir supplied bass support with his tablas. The trio has a 2006 recording on ECM. It's hard to come up with superlatives that do these three geniuses justice. The Charles Lloyd Quartet (with Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Cecil McBee) was a ground breaking group that changed history, as did Zakir's work with John McLaughlin in Shakti. Eastern and Western music do become one. Opening with an alap, with Zakir chanting deep notes while fanning colors from his tablas, fingers a blur, Lloyd bridging East and West with hints of jazz and raga, and Harland providing colors from bebop to funk to abstract, it is new and fresh music of the highest order. A special treat was running into Zakir at the restaurant Dosa the next evening after another performance. Gracious, and regal, and humble, as are all great artists through which the music flows.

Last night the great Dave Holland and Prism returned to SF Jazz.  Holland had a residency there in February, and Prism played on one of the nights.  It was a treat to see them again after only a few months.  They were both looser and tighter as a band, which is to be expected.  Holland and Eric Harland may be the best rythym section in improvised music right now (along with my own dear Kai Eckhardt and Deszon Claiborne!) and achieve a mind-blowing telepathy.  Harland can switch from straight ahaead to funk to latin to bossa in as many bars, and unlike most drummers who try this, a driving groove is always there.  Craig Taborn is sensitive and inventive, and reminds one of Chick Corea in Mile's band.  Kevin Eubanks is a little formulaic for my tastes, and sounded better in February using a Boogie Lone Star amp.  Last night it looked like a Galien Kruger with cheap pedals.  But he has a long history with Holland, and Dave is obviously fond of him.  It could be that Holland finds his icey, vaguely angry playing to be a contrast to his warm tone.  And Holland has one of the best senses of rythym is the world.  Think of the bass line in "It's About That Time" that segues from "Silent Way".  A living master, and treasure.

I could see him every night.



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