Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd turns in another ECM recording that looks and sounds like much of the German label's high-quality "chamber jazz" output with an emphasis on clean recording sound and austere record cover graphics. ECM has garnered a reputation for a uniformity of sound and presentation during the past 30 years not unlike the one that dogged Creed Taylor's CTI label, which specialized in a kind of cookie-cutter crossover jazz sound in the Seventies. Critics often say that if you've heard one ECM record you've heard them all, and yes, there is a crispness and clarity to the sound of recordings released by the label, and most of their record covers have a fine-arts look to them. But is there anything wrong with trying to ensure a certain quality of sound and beauty of cover art, especially when most of the label's output is interesting and worthy?
This new one by Charles Lloyd transcends the interesting and worthy ECM tag. It's inspired and soulful, qualities not often associated with the label's recorded product. Accompanied by John Abercrombie on guitar, Billy Higgins on drums (he and Lloyd have played together off and on during the past 40 years), Brad Mehldau on piano, and Larry Grenadier on bass, Lloyd mixes standards like Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia" with his own originals. The playing is quiet but not restrained; volume doesn't substitute for intensity on this recording. There is something to be said for the tone of a long-time sax player like Lloyd who has had a chance to develop a personal and identifiable one. His sound is very emotional but he doesn't resort to groks and splats to make his playing felt. The Charles Lloyd of 30-plus years ago probably would have. Economy of effort and age can sometimes work together nicely. An ECM record that sounds as classy as it looks. Strange.