on “Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey,” 1966, Atlantic Records, vinyl, available on CD from PSP Co Ltd. (Chosen for this date as seasonally appropriate, but leaving July 1 free for Canada Day, July 4 free for American Independence Day)
When I was a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old high school student in Denver, Colorado, my friend Paul Stein* introduced me to Charles Lloyd and his extraordinary sidemen Keith Jarrett (piano, mostly; sometimes soprano sax and percussion), Cecil McBee (bass; sometimes the bassist was Ron McClure), and Jack DeJohnette (percussion). When Paul and I went to see the quartet live, at McNichols Auditorium downtown, we were probably the only high school students in attendance. We thought we were pretty cool, I expect. Paul was particularly impressed when Lloyd turned his back on the audience mid-tune. These were the days of Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers, and Lloyd not only looked like Cleaver, he seemed at least as pissed off – all attitude. Typically, I was intimidated and put off.
Still, I conveyed my enthusiasm (musically) for Lloyd to my Uncle Gene Smookler, a professional reed-man who has played with Buddy Rich and Woody Herman’s travelling band, but he didn’t share it at the time. Today, in his late seventies and only just retired from playing reeds and flute (baritone sax, mostly, lately as co-leader of the Denver big band, What’s Cookin’), he tells me he at last hears what I heard in this tune and today is impressed by it. Perhaps with the pedantry of later adulthood, I’ve replied that I’ve come to think that Lloyd sometimes plays sax like John Coltrane on a bad day, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but it seems to me he genuinely has a good day here. Come to that, I actually like some of his flute playing (“El Encanto” and “Sombrero Sam” will probably make it into the 366 Tunes list), which leaves me pretty much on my own in the flute community, where I am not much of a player myself, and probably lonely as an avid jazz listener, too.
In any event, “Forest Flower” remains one of those tunes that I’d probably load onto the MP3 player I was permitted to take to a desert island. To my ears the entire quartet plays with great feeling on this live version, possibly at the top of their game. What particularly thrills me still, after hundreds of listenings over nearly fifty years (it really holds up, this performance!), is Keith Jarrett’s work, both on accompaniment and in the solos. What’s left of my hair stands up even now when he emerges from the controlled chaos of that second solo, in the “Sunset” portion, repeating diminuendo his Latin solo-lick as Lloyd comes back in on sax. I’ve often thought that, while Jarrett is never considered a sideman, his most brilliant work is consistently performed in that role, and as composer more than as solo, improvisational pianist. But again, this is probably idiosyncracy – mine, if not his.
Then there is that hypnotic bass line in the “Sunset” section. I imagine some jazz enthusiasts would scoff at its simplicity, but to me McBee and DeJohnette are generously unpretentious, giving exactly what fits the mood. The humid Latin-dance feel is a bit of brilliance. Throughout (and, yes, especially in the first section), they play with moving taste and intelligence. (There’s a story that Paul Desmond would ostentatiously read a book during drum solos when he was with Dave Brubeck’s quartet; I don’t imagine he would have done that here.)
Also notable about “Forest Flower” is how it demonstrates that jazz can be progressive but at the same time beautifully lyrical or “expressionist,” as well as capable of fusion with conventional styles, here with “Latin.”
This live setting of the tune seems especially apt as soundtrack to the beginning of the dog days of summer. As part of a poem series (The IPod Poems), I have composed “lyrics” for it reflecting that idea. In the “Sunrise” section, I have tried to follow the horn line. Read it here (on my website), under “IPod Poems”: http://jeffreymiller.ca/words-music/ Reader discretion recommended: sexuality, strong language, and all that jazz.