For all my brothers and sisters for whom music moves you on the spiritual plane, I wish you had been with me last Friday night. What transpired there, within the dimly lit walls of a small jazz club in Minneapolis, is hard to describe. Here is my attempt…
Charles Lloyd, a saxophonist, flautist, and world-renowned leader in spiritual jazz, decided to take up residency at the Dakota here in Minneapolis to celebrate his 80th birthday on March 15th. He arranged a string of shows that allowed audiences to experience what happens when the unique talents of world-class musicians of different genres are consciously mixed.
What I joined was a community of 250 like-minded souls gathering to absorb the music of the Marvels. This collective began with Mr. Lloyd and his current rhythm section of Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. To this he added the esoteric and umbilical guitar playing of Bill Frisell and the evocatively liquid pedal steel of Greg Leisz. If this wasn’t a surprising enough combination, Lloyd engaged the world-worn, ravaged twang of Lucinda Williams to round out the combo.
What this collective proceeded to create was nothing short of transcendent. Free, experimental jazz led off the 1st set; an ever-moving, ever-expanding amalgam of notes and noise creating shapes in sound. An ethereal and gorgeous second piece followed, a complete juxtaposition to the first. Where it was loud, harsh and antagonistic; this was healing, gentle, affectionate. Two more songs followed and then the first hour was gone. A few more selections, briefer than the first, led us into the second hour. Mr. Lloyd then invited Lucinda to join them as they peeled away the layers on Dylan’s “Masters of War”.
Reinvention is too simplistic a term for what I was witnessing, a better word might be confluence. Six different streams of music, all unique to themselves, all indescribably complex in their own right – coming together, mixing, shifting, sparkling, and emerging into a completely new and heretofore unknown presence. Complex wisps of individual imagination solidifying in real time, creating an ever-changing tapestry of sound blissfully washing over me brought the conclusion of the music. I did not want it to end. The momentum, the vitality of what I was witnessing made the cessation of sound difficult. Imagine my delight when it was announced that there were still a few tickets to be had for the second set – for free! It wasn’t even a question.
The second set began with an afro-beat colored composition and proceeded to expand and shift for another 90 minutes. Complex arrangements sprinkled with singular evocative notes. Spiritual reed tones, chameleon-hued guitars, and raw vocals on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and a newly-penned Lucinda Williams gospel-blues “We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around”, painted haunting aural landscapes about racism and the path we’re on at present.
As the clock crept close to midnight, the music didn’t end, rather, it dissipated into an ether. There is a term found in Celtic spirituality – thin spaces. These are described to be places or moments where the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back, only slightly, and we can glimpse the divine.
Thank you, Charles Lloyd and the Marvels, for transporting us, if only for a few hours, into a thin space unrivaled.