Published Jul 01, 2013Eminent saxophonist Charles Lloyd received this year's Miles Davis award at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and nothing could have exemplified Davis's 1970s fixations with freedom within abstract global grooves more than Sangam, Lloyd's trio with drummer Eric Harland and tabla maestro, Zakir Hussain. The music created between the three stopped short of alchemy, but exuded the loving feeling of old friends embroiled in deep conversation.
Lloyd and Harland are multi-instrumentalists and took turns on the grand piano placed centre stage (blocking access for whomever wanted to play the drum kit, which caused some detours — what was up with that?). Lloyd started on piano; he's no master, but, as with his saxophone playing, he knows what he wants to say and how to say it. The simplicity of his playing in no way diminished its beauty, which was gradually sculpted into something much more propulsive by Hussain and his armada of six tablas.
The group worked best when the three players concentrated on their main instruments. Hussain and Harland worked up scarily intricate grooves, which brought beaming smiles from both. Harland is funky; often his patterns verged into drum and bass, and Hussain (who's been in that territory with Bill Laswell's Tabla Beat Science) just egged him on, his all-world rhythmic compassion finding new subdivisions of beats. Lloyd, whether on tenor saxophone or Hungarian tarogato (looks like a soprano sax, sounds Indian) brought a Coltrane-like authority to gently nudge the energy even higher — not bad for a 74-year-old. Lloyd is every bit the elder statesmen who doesn't play as fast as his sidemen but is able to control the flow on his own terms. There were a few flubbed transitions, and compared to their album of a few years ago, fewer variations in pace and instrumentation, but fireworks came early this Canada Day weekend.