Splitting the Difference


The first two jazz albums I bought, on the same day in the summer of 1964, were Coltrane Sound and Getz/Gilberto, both new and on the radio then. So how could I resist Charles Lloyd’s Of Course, Of Course the following year? Lloyd took Coltrane and Getz and split the difference, combining harmonic fury and lyrical float while tossing in some Rollins and Coleman for good measure. It was an attractive synthesis, all right, even though I was by then deep into Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and others from what Stanley Crouch dismisses as that era’s “primitive bunch” in his liner notes to the just-reissued Of Course. When Lloyd cracked the Fillmore circuit a few years later, it was by tipping the balance in favor of Coltrane and becoming a popularizer. If to paraphrase rabble-rousing critic Frank Kofsky, Coltrane’s tenor was a fist raised in solidarity with ’60s black power, Lloyd’s opened up to reveal a flower. Lloyd has long since ripened into a commanding presence in his own right, which makes it too bad that he falls back on Coltrane again on the new Sangam, where he has only Zakir Hussain’s tabla and Eric Harland’s traps for support. Of Course remains his best recording by far, every bit as fresh and appealing as back in the day. Ron Carter and Tony Williams take liberties with meter and pulse they weren’t yet daring with Miles Davis, and this is the place to hear why there was initially such excitement about guitarist Gabor Szabo’s mix of heavy tremolo and open space—his chases with Lloyd on “The Things We Did Last Summer” and “Voice in the Night” envisioned the first new direction in jazz guitar after Wes Montgomery (who also sold out and died young). Who cares if a previously unissued “East of the Sun” and two bids for a hit single with a different rhythm team and Robbie Robertson on second guitar are neither here nor there?