Recording of June 2024: Charles Lloyd: The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow

Charles Lloyd: The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow

Lloyd, tenor & alto saxophone, bass & alto flute; Jason Moran, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Brian Blade, drums, percussion

Blue Note 00602458167962 (reviewed as 24/96 FLAC; available on CD, digital, LP). 2024. Dorothy Darr, Lloyd, Joe Harley, prods.; Dom Camardella, Kevin Gray, engs.

Performance *****

Sonics *****

The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow was released by Blue Note Records on March 15, 2024, which was Charles Lloyd’s 86th birthday. It is Lloyd’s 47th album as a leader—the first was Discovery!, on Columbia Records, in 1964—how about that! With a running time one minute over an hour and a half, pressed on two LPs, this album is a significant addition to Lloyd’s era-traversing catalog. Of the album’s 15 tracks, 13 are Charles Lloyd compositions, split between new pieces and new arrangements of older works.

The quartet Lloyd leads here includes pianist Jason Moran and bassist Larry Grenadier, both of whom Lloyd has collaborated with before, on stage and on record. The new member is drummer Brian Blade. In his album notes, Charles mentions wanting to get this group together as early as 2020. The plan finally came to fruition at the Santa Barbara Sound Design studio, where recording took place in March 2023.

Santa Barbara has been Lloyd’s hometown for many years, and he has recorded before at engineer/owner Dom Camardella’s studio there. Joe “Tone Poet” Harley was on hand to help produce the sessions, sharing producing credits with Lloyd and his wife, Dorothy Darr. It was Lloyd who assigned Joe the “Tone Poet” nickname years ago; Harley is so credited on prior Lloyd recordings.

In other words, recording tech and musicians were all part of the same home team, usually a plus for both sound and music.

Let’s consider the sound first. It’s fabulous! Drums occupy the left half of the stage, bass is centered, Lloyd’s horns are either centered or slightly to the right. Piano fairly hard right. The variety and quality of drum and percussion sounds is top-of-the-class fine, multimiked in the main studio room. The detailed drum sound supports Blade’s wide variety of approaches to time in this music, from locked-down grooves to completely aleatoric. The acoustic bass is beautifully balanced, capturing delicate plucking transients and powerful vamps that propel the tunes forward. The album notes do not include tech info on the piano, other than that it was a Steinway; it sounds like a fine one.

The focus of the mix, as you would expect, is on Lloyd’s saxes and flutes. The sound on these is just lovely: never abrasive, even when Charles goes into full-tilt mode. I was especially enjoying the timbre of the flutes, which Lloyd uses almost as much as his saxes on this album, when I noticed from the credits that only bass and alto flute were used; both are lower than the normal C-Flute, giving darker and gentler sounds than what you often hear in jazz. Throughout the album, Charles’s tenor sax produces a beautiful, strong, relaxed sound, which helps convey the deep spiritual intent of the music. Lloyd’s horn sounds are vocal in nature and deeply emotional.

As you’d expect, the LPs were mastered by Kevin Gray. I’m told Charles attended the session and loved what he was hearing. My copy of the vinyl set had more surface noise than I would like, but the quality of the sound is exceptionally fine. The 24/96 digital version, which was made from the same master without alteration, is excellent, too, without the surface noise. For Blue Note recordings, Gray runs a digital copy at the same time he physically cuts the lacquers; that digital copy becomes the new digital master for streaming, downloads, and CD. It’s a totally parallel path.

Joe Harley told me, “It was crystal clear from the first day of recording that some very special magic was happening.” Listen to the deep soul and nature imagery on “The Water Is Rising,” or the twin pieces that bookend the album (an idea Lloyd credits to his wife), “Defiant, Tender Warrior” and “Defiant, Reprise; Homeward Dove.” “Booker’s Garden” is a tribute to Lloyd’s childhood friend from Memphis, trumpeter Booker Little, who died way before his time at age 23. On “The Ghost of Lady Day,” Lloyd moans and shrieks; a very wide range of musical pictures is painted here. The title track, “The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow,” finds Charles in a swinging groove—then Moran kicks it into an atonal frenzy, then settles in to a Jarrett-style vamp. Which is appropriate; when I first heard Charles Lloyd perform, I was still in high school, and a young Keith Jarrett was at the piano.

A few days after the release of this album, I was able to speak with Charles Lloyd briefly, and I asked him if this album felt special. “It does indeed,” he answered.—Sasha Matson

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