Picks and Pans Review: Fish Out of Water

updated 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Charles Lloyd

Saxophonist-flutist Lloyd produces intuitive, emotional music that's just the thing for dreamers who appreciate gently free-floating lyricism and are willing to put up with a bit of self-indulgent navel gazing.

During the psychedelic '60s, Lloyd was a crossover pioneer. His 1966 LP Forest Flower, which blended modal harmonies and rock rhythms, was one of the first jazz records to sell a million copies. He played at San Francisco's Fillmore rock palace with Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead, and his band was a proving ground for two talented youngsters: pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette. While his protégés flourished, however, Lloyd grew disillusioned with music and spent most of the '70s and '80s studying Eastern religions and savoring the quietude of his mountain-top home overlooking Big Sur.

Fish out of Water is Lloyd's first studio album in more than a decade. Bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen, both members of the '70s Jarrett band, Belonging, give an incantatory rhythmic feel to Lloyd's musings, while pianist Bobo Stenson adds a touch of refined classicism. "Haghia Sophia" is laden with all-too-ethereal atmospherics, and "Eyes of Love" is a confused mix of improvisational noodling and pop sentimentality. But on "The Dirge" and "Bharati," the group sustains a compelling tension, punctuated by deft bursts of tenor sax calligraphy from Lloyd.

There were always echoes of John Coltrane in Lloyd's playing. But Lloyd seems to have forsaken the hard-edged expressionism that Coltrane's explorations often displayed for a soft-focus impressionism that calls to mind Stan Getz. Lloyd's melodic lines are lean and clean and can indeed be as exhilarating as the sight of a game fish breaking the water's surface for a glorious moment of flight. (ECM)

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