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Hear Charles Lloyd & The Marvels Throw Some Groove Behind Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'"

Dorothy Darr

Charles Lloyd — the multi-reedist, composer-bandleader, and NEA Jazz Master — has always been a rambler.

To hear him tell it, Lloyd, 82, spent many formative hours of his childhood rambling through the orchards of his grandparents’ farm in Mississippi. As a young man, he rambled from Memphis to Los Angeles, and then to New York, where he began to gain traction as a bandleader. Then he rambled into fame, and out of sight, and back again — warmer and wiser this time, though still with a restless spark in his soul.

Of course, “Ramblin’” — the lead single from Lloyd’s forthcoming Blue Note album, Tone Poem— comes with its own separate pedigree. It’s a tune by Lloyd’s fellow saxophonist and kindred spirit Ornette Coleman, who used it to open his 1960 album Change of the Century. Lloyd had met him in Los Angeles several years earlier, as he recently recalled on the late Coleman’s birthday.

Lloyd’s version of the song evokes the open road, via the textures and timbres of The Marvels, his band with Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums.

Credit Dorothy Darr

Listen for how Leisz plays something like a semi truck horn with a Doppler effect, over Harland’s rolling second-line groove. As for Lloyd, his approach is akin to a bob-and-weave, while Frisell equips his guitar with some gnarly distortion.

Tone Poem is Lloyd’s sixth Blue Note album since 2015, and it comes on the heels of an impressive drop: the deluxe set 8: Kindred Spirits (Live From the Lobero), which clocked in at No. 5 in the 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. It’s the third album by The Marvels, which peppered its previous releases with distinguished vocalists: first Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, then Lucinda Williams.

For a portion of the jazz consumer base, the title of Lloyd’s new album will ring a bell: the Tone Poet Series, on audiophile vinyl, is a centerpiece of Blue Note’s current reissue efforts under the supervision of producer Joe Harley. Tone Poem will in fact be the first new release under the Tone Poet banner; in fact, it was Lloyd who first bestowed Harley with the epithet “Tone Poet.”

“Ramblin’” isn’t the only Ornette Coleman composition on Tone Poem, which opens with a version of his “Peace.” There are also tunes by Thelonious Monk (“Monk’s Mood”), Leonard Cohen (“Anthem”) and Bola de Nieve (“Ay Amor”). Lloyd brings a few tunes of his own, including the title track and a semi-recent favorite, “Prayer.”

Tone Poem, by Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, will be released on Blue Note on March 12; preorder here.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.