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JAZZ REVIEW | Charles Lloyd "The Sky Will Be There Tomorrow" by Jeff Cebulski


The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow.

Charles Lloyd

Blue Note, 2024.

By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


After many years with the label ECM, the beloved saxophonist and flautist Charles Lloyd moved to Blue Note in 2013 and began to record with varied ensembles and in refreshed concepts. The results included the formation of The Marvels, an attempt to contemporize Lloyd’s naturally lyrical bent by adding a guitar (the eclectic Bill Frisell) to the mix. Then a trio project emerged, with three albums released on vinyl.


On ECM, most of his albums featured his long-standing quartet configuration. On Blue Note, only one of his albums, a live recording, Passing Thru, included the quartet, while a second live release, 8: Kindred Spirits, added guitarist Julian Lage.


On his new album The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow, Lloyd returns with a revamped quartet. Longtime pianist and compatriot Jason Moran remains, with trustworthy bassist Larry Grenadier and irrepressible drummer Brian Blade the “new” members.


Listening to The Sky, I was stuck by the predominance of theme, something I last heard from the thoughtful Lloyd back in 2002, after the fateful 9-11 experience. If one listens with theme in mind, the double album (like that predecessor Lift Every Voice) becomes resonant both in its contemplative manner and its insistent optimism, as if Lloyd is attempting to assuage the tensions of our socio-political lives by applying some Buddhistic wisdom.


Grenadier, who appeared on Lift Every Voice, then is an understandable link between the two albums and the appropriate choice for the new release. Blade, whose tasteful approach mirrors that of Lloyd’s late friend Billy Higgins, is perfectly placed to respond to the waves of rhythm and tone Lloyd weaves into his compositions.


Another continuing characteristic of Lloyd’s work is the recycling of his music. In this case, seven of the 15 selections are past-recorded; they serve a purpose similar to the familiar spirituals and classics played on the 2002 record, a recollection of and re-association with the past that can be applied to the present. The six originals and two new interpretations of spirituals clearly advance Lloyd’s seeming desire to reassure his audience that things are dire now but a new day is on the horizon.


The album appears to have an internal symmetry that contributes to its implicit rhetoric. It begins and ends with “Defiant,” which symbolizes the yin/yang of Lloyd’s philosophical approach. Blade begins with deep, almost foreboding Tom Tom beats, only to have the tone softened by the leader’s soulful sax commentary supported by Moran’s bright accompaniment. The sax version is titled “Defiant, Tender Warrior”; the conclusion is titled “Defiant, reprise; Homeward Dove.”


The album’s thematic core begins eight tunes in with the title cut, a whimsical statement that swings early as Lloyd and Blade craft a duet leading to an abstract jam with Moran before returning to swing mode via a vibrant, improvised rhythm trio moment. A revisit to Lloyd’s “Beyond Darkness,” first heard on Lift Every Voice,  is next, an exploratory version that percolates behind Grenadier’s repeating bass line rather than contemplating the idea. The longest piece, “Sky Valley, Spirit of the Forest,” provides a meditative environment. Moran and Grenadier’s opening duet reminds me of the synchronicity of Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, with Lloyd providing a Dewey Redmanesque foil. (Grenadier’s contributions on this album are wonderfully rendered and mixed.) More improvised musing occurs as Lloyd leads and his mates follow.


The two spirituals, a relaxed “Balm in Gilead” and a stirring, gospel-infused sax/piano riff on “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” set the tone for the thematic finale, “When the Sun Comes Up, Darkness Is Gone.” With a lead-in slightly reminiscent of Lloyd’s classic “Pre-Dawn,” the saxophonist somberly announces that the new day sunrise has arrived.


Among the notable remainders, Lloyd’s phrasing in “The Lonely One” sounds refreshingly like his early work with the famous 60’s quartet. The peripatetic Monk’s Dance” (featuring Moran’s references to old-timely jazz), the hip “Booker’s Garden,” and the reverent “The Ghost of Lady Day” are tributes to significant personal inspirations. “Cape to Cairo” also resurrects Lloyd’s early compositions in its subtle exotic texture.


Like the finest ancient wisdom that can instill hope in any generation, Charles Lloyd melds the past with the present, exuding timelessness, always moving forward in relevance while maintaining the pearls of the ancient. With an all-world supporting cast, The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow is a worthy extension of an already formidable career.


Charles Lloyd, The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow. Blue Note, 2024.


Charles Lloyd, tenor saxophone and flute

Jason Moran, piano

Larry Grenadier, bass

Brian Blade, drums


About Jeff Cebulski

Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at jeff@chicagojazz.com

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Just as The New York Jazz Workshop infuses its community-based education with jazz elements, Cebulski delves into Lloyd's music, highlighting its depth and innovation. With Lloyd's mastery and Cebulski's keen analysis, this review offers readers a captivating journey through the realms of contemporary jazz. It's a testament to the enduring vitality of the jazz community and its ability to inspire and engage audiences of all ages.

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