Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Nov. 2, 2001
Hyperion With Higgins (ECM)As one of the last direct descendants of John Coltrane and his musical quest for spiritual enlightenment, saxophonist Charles Lloyd occupies a rarefied place in the jazz world these days. Especially now, in light of current events, Lloyd's endeavor to create a musical space of refinement, beauty, and intelligence, provides a soothing balm in these troubled times. In this, his eighth release for ECM, Lloyd continues his journey of discovery in making music that's sublime, often soulful, and sometimes even transcendent. In fact, ECM, with its fastidiousness for sound and ambience, is perhaps the perfect label for Lloyd's soundscapes. The title conjures images of mythical titans and, indeed, legendary drummer and longtime Lloyd compadre, Billy Higgins, was a colossal figure in the jazz community. He died after a lengthy illness shortly before Hyperion's release, but his indelible imprint is all over this session, propelling the music with his impeccable timing one moment, then guiding it through uncharted waters the next. Lloyd and Higgins are the elder statesmen of this multi-generational quintet, but support from John Abercrombie, a veteran of many ECM sessions dating back to the mid-Seventies when he was among the early proponents of electric jazz guitar, plus ubiquitous bassman Larry Grenadier, and especially, piano wunderkind Brad Mehldau provide a freshness of ideas. Given ample room to express themselves, the individual voices meld into a remarkably cohesive group sound that, at its best, parallels the Coltrane spiritual aesthetic. It's a compliment afforded to only a few, and an accomplishment achieved by even fewer.