Perfect Sound Forever

Charles Lloyd

Photo from the Charles Lloyd website

Sorcery At Monterey: Re-examining "Forest Flower"
by Phil Mitchell
(December 2014)

In September of 1966, tenor saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd and his band took center stage at The Monterey Jazz festival somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Leaders of the free movement such as John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Albert Ayler had in recent years strayed far from the confines of standard post-bop and into the realms of the free movement. Jazz, for better or for worse, had changed. Music had changed. With the assistance of pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette, Lloyd was able to craft a sound that was both easily accessible to hard bop and avant garde leaning aficionados alike.

The set begins with a modified arrangement of a throwback, two part piece from Lloyd's days in the Chico Hamilton Quartet, Forest Flower- Sunrise/Sunset. The beginning is light and breezy, the rhythm floating somewhere between a bossa nova and a straight ahead tempo. I hate to use the old cliche 'controlled chaos' but in all honesty, it works perfectly to describe what is going on here. "Forest Flower" (the song) and its two parts' greatest strength is that the arrangement itself leaves room for all musicians to really stretch out in a truly creative fashion without getting in each other's way. McBee anchors the rhythm with the same smooth bass line over and over again like a mantra, which in turn allows DeJohnette to move around his kit with his trademark elasticity. The same can be said with Keith Jarrett's imaginative and lush melodies that help propel the piece to newfound heights during each new bar.

As "Forest Flower" effortlessly transitions into "Sunset," the piece becomes a searing modal powerhouse that somehow retains a bounce in its step. Lloyd really wails on his tenor here, and in doing so, pushes the band to be just as imaginative and freewheeling. As the intensity rises higher and higher, it all comes floating back down like a soft rain over the pacific coast highway. DeJohnette begins to play delicately, his stick clicking and clacking playfully against the rim of his snare. Lloyd has a bit of fun with a call and response routine that even gets a laugh from the audience. At the very end, Jarett starts plucking the strings of the piano and fiddles with the hammers which, somehow, compliments what is going on wonderfully.

Next up is "Sorcery," which features Lloyd playing flute exclusively. It's a tune that's certainly showcases the band's avant-garde leanings and is a good example of Jarrett's more eccentric playing style. If "Forest Flower" lulled the audience into a state of comfort, "Sorcery" would have waked them rather abruptly, which is a necessity in all great live jazz.

The mood then shifts to the sentimental with McBee's heartfelt ballad, "Song Of Her," This is my second favorite song on the album next to "Forest Flower." I've always wondered why it never really caught on as standard. Jarett channels his inner Bill Evans, and Lloyd channels Coltrane (the elegance of "Naima" comes to mind).

"East Of The Sun" is the last song in the set. It reminds me of a continuation of the themes presented in "Forest Flower-Sunrise/Sunset." The tempo changes are break neck as ever. DeJohnette is a monster behind the kit here, and Jarett really pounds on the keys fitfully, at times sounding like a young Cecil Taylor. McBee takes a brief but imaginative solo before the band charges ahead again to only then quickly fade out, leaving the Monterey crowd to stand to their feet in riotous applause.

These songs truly exemplify just how versatile these musicians are and would soon become- this was a exceptionally young band. Bassist Cecil McBee was the oldest at 31 years old and pianist Keith Jarett was the youngest at 21 years old. Band leader Charles Lloyd and drummer Jack DeJohnette were 28 and 24 years old, respectfully. These sideman were simply too damn good to stay in one place for too long. McBee would depart before the recording of Lloyd's 1967 live jazz ode to the flower power movement, Love In, and would go on to become a prolific sideman in his own right with the occasional album in a leading role. Keith Jarett would leave the band in 1968 to join Miles Davis' Bitches Brew era band, with drummer Jack DeJohnette following shortly after as Tony Williams' replacement, Charles Lloyd would solider on a few more years before starting a finically lucrative (if not artistically underwhelming) role as a Beach Boys sideman for many years.

Lloyd would make his return to the jazz world with great fanfare in the early 1980's, collaborating with virtuoso pianist Michel Petrucciani. Although he continues to be both a jazz and world music innovator to this very day, there's a certain synergy and spark about the 1966 Forest Flower era band that sets it apart from all his previous and current music. It was a qusai swan song, a bookend to an era in jazz that was quickly fading away, never to return. It was also the beginning of an exciting time in the history of the Monterey Jazz festival; Bay Area psychedelic rock 'n' roll bands were sandwiched between groups like Gerry Mulligan and The Cannonball Adderly Quintet (something concert impresario Bill Graham would soon champion). Purists would turn their noses up at the co-mingling of more commercial artist's with jazz groups, but it sold tickets and the audiences kept coming regardless of their feelings on the subject. Charles Lloyd was jazz music's home grown and genuinely authentic answer to the mid-'60's counterculture movement in America. Although Lloyd would release other great albums throughout the decade and beyond, most notably the after motioned, Love In as well as Charles Lloyd In The Soviet Union, Forest Flower is by and large Charles Lloyds biggest commercial and artistic success (it has since sold over a million copies). It's an album that can grab hold of nearly any casual or hardcore jazz fan immediately, and have them obsessing and nitpicking over its contents for years.

Also see the Charles Lloyd website

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