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Hear the luminous first single from Charles Lloyd's 'Trio of Trios'

Dorothy Darr

Three — as we know from ancient religious teachings, and also from Bob Doroughis a magic number. So it should be no surprise that it would hold some fascination for Charles Lloyd, the tenor saxophonist, flutist and NEA Jazz Master who has always combined a rambling spirit with a seeker's heart.

Lloyd, 84, has recently been making music in trio formats, with an array of kindred spirits. He'll release three albums in this vein over the coming months, starting with Trios: Chapel, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan. This morning, Blue Note released the opening track and first single from that album: a warmly susurrating treatment of "Blood Count," the elegant, tragic Billy Strayhorn ballad.

Strayhorn composed "Blood Count" for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which performed it at Carnegie Hall in 1967. Two months later, Strayhorn succumbed to terminal illness at 51 — a circumstance that has always informed public reception of the heartbreaking ballad. "With its dramatic melody and interrupted thoughts, and the fatalism of its final bars," muses Strayhorn biographer Walter van de Leur, "'Blood Count' conjures the devastating consequences of Strayhorn's progressing cancer."

You don't need to dwell on those details in order to appreciate the sensitivity and heart that Lloyd brings to his interpretation of the theme, in a ruminative rubato. He has the ideal partners for this mood: Frisell and Morgan have established an almost telepathic bond together, both as an award-winning duo and in the Bill Frisell Trio. Listen for how they shadow Lloyd's liquid phrasing of the melody, before peeling off together.

The Charles Lloyd Chapel Trio, with Thomas Morgan and Bill Frisell
Dorothy Darr
The Charles Lloyd Chapel Trio, with Thomas Morgan and Bill Frisell

Trios: Chapel is named for the setting of this group's first performance, in a chapel in San Antonio, TX, toward the end of 2018. After the album arrives on June 24, Blue Note will release the other two albums in the series: Trios: Ocean, with pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Anthony Wilson (Aug. 26) and Trios: Sacred Thread, with guitarist Julian Lage and percussionist Zakir Hussain (Oct. 28). Then a Trio of Trios vinyl box will be available at the Blue Note store.

Charles Lloyd's Chapel Trio will perform, along with the Charles Lloyd New Quartet, at Sony Hall in Times Square on June 26, as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival.

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