“He knows peace who has forgotten desire,” Charles Lloyd intoned near the end of his 90-minute concert at Sanders Theatre Thursday night. It wasn’t bunk. Lloyd is the real deal. He lived for years in Big Sur and is deeply into meditation. Word has it that as a seeker he has taken long walks in the California desert.
He’s also an astonishing jazz musician, but maybe in his case the mystic and the jazz musician are inseparable. In this Celebrity Series concert, Lloyd demonstrated his total mastery of tenor saxophone, flute, and the Turkish end-blown pipe, the tárogáto.
He also showed himself a master of jazz form and, well, decorum. Now 75, tall, unstooped, wearing tinted glasses, and with fringes of white hair poking from beneath his skull cap, Lloyd entered with pianist Jason Moran and played two Billy Strayhorn standards, “Pretty Girl” and “Take the A Train.” He caressed the melody of each, giving the tunes room to breath, at the same time flourishing his signature little arpeggiated runs between phrases. He’d end a phrase and just when you thought he’d expelled his last breath, a final, perfectly formed note would float from his horn and through the hall.
In fact, Sanders Theatre never sounded better. That’s because Lloyd and his young band – Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland – knew how to play it. Lloyd has a few albums with this band on ECM now, and also a new duo CD with Moran, Hagar’s Song (get it). The band played through originals and standards, including a mesmerizing workout for that táragáto – ostinato rhythm, Arabic scales, the dance-like sway of a tambourine shaken by Moran. “Monk’s Mood” was another standout.
But it was probably during the 20-minute encore that the event passed from concert into rite. Beginning with a minor-key flute melody, Lloyd soon pulled a piano bench next to Moran and joined him, fourhand, playing tremolo chords and intoning from the Bhagavad Gita. Rogers bowed a long drone, Harland beat time and groaned a complementary drone, throat-singing style. Lloyd tumbled out one verse after another, went back to the flute, and then the music found a backbeat and he was dancing. Moran took a roaring solo and the crowd roared back. Then Lloyd was playing tenor, the band quieted and the tune – and the evening – ended on a single chord.