NEW YORK (AP) — The soulful cries of Charles Lloyd's tenor saxophone filled the cavernous hall housing the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as he performed the North American premiere of his "Wild Man Dance Suite."
Lloyd likened the vibe there to when his group performed in 2010 at the Herodion at the foot of the Acropolis with Greek singer Maria Farantouri.
"Each stone of the Temple embodies a part of civilization and centuries of humanity," Lloyd said in an email response to questions. "The exception here is that we are under glass in the heart of Manhattan — this brings it into the 21st century with an aura of modernity."
That juxtaposition made it a fitting venue to present the new suite by one of the pioneers of the world music movement known for creating unique sonic landscapes fusing jazz with musical styles from around the planet.
The suite pairs his modern jazz quartet with two musicians playing ancient instruments: Greek Sokratis Sinopoulos on the bowed lyra, and Hungarian Miklos Lukacs on the dulcimer-like cimbalom, a rhythmic and melodic instrument.
Two days after the April 18 concert, Lloyd was inducted as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor. It capped off a momentous month that also saw the release of "Wild Man Dance," a live recording of the suite's 2013 world premiere commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, to mark its 10th anniversary. The release marks Lloyd's first on Blue Note Records since 1985 after a quarter century with ECM.
Lloyd, who drew inspiration from the rivers, wildlife and flora of the region in southwestern Poland for the six-movement suite, says the title refers to the "wild yogis" who've influenced him from bluesmen to gurus of the Vendanta Indian spritual philosophy.
"I have been called a Bluesman on a spiritual journey," Lloyd said. "I grew up around Howlin' Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland and Phineas Newborn and later I discovered Milareppa, Ramakrisna and Vivekananda."
At 77, Lloyd's passion for creating music remains as strong as when his quartet shared the bill in the psychedelic '60s at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, or when he played alone amid the redwoods during an extended period of seclusion in Big Sur from 1970 until the early '80s to heal himself spiritually.
"Making music is my joy and passion — I could not live without it. This is my service," Lloyd said. "Getting on and off planes, checking in and out of hotels — this is what I get paid to do."
Lloyd is sharing his "reservoir of experience" with his New Quartet — with pianist Jason Moran, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers — which has worked together since 2007.
"I'm very fortunate to work with a master," said Moran, who leads his own highly regarded trio. "Charles has really been a person to show how open the world is rather than how closed it is."
Lloyd says his New Quartet bears comparison with his original quartet from the mid-'60s with then-unknown pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee. Their 1966 recording "Forest Flower: Live At Monterey," one of the first jazz albums to sell a million copies, "captured the imagination of a generation of idealists and dreamers," Lloyd said.
Lloyd says he's not ready to give up his lifelong quest "to find the one note that is so in tune with the universe it says it all."
"When I find it, I will be able to exchange my saxophone for a loin cloth and go back into the forest." he said.
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