Charles Lloyd Quartet

You won’t find a more aptly titled album than Charles Lloyd’s new Voice in the Night (ECM), his eighth since ending a self-imposed exile from stage and studio in the late 80s–and arguably his best in 30 years. Lloyd’s tenor belongs to the twilight, with its dusky timbre, shadowy articulation, wing-flutter phrases, and ghostly, flutelike harmonics that float above the instrument’s proper range. In the mid-60s he created this sound by modifying elements of John Coltrane’s style: softening Coltrane’s timbre and attack, reassembling his scrambled scales and modal melodies into a smoother, more inviting lyricism, and applying this voice to music less daunting than Trane’s avant-garde extravaganzas. In the process he made Coltrane’s innovations accessible to a larger audience; I suspect the 17-minute version of Lloyd’s famous “Forest Flower” still gets more airplay than Coltrane’s similarly extended “My Favorite Things.” Some critics felt Lloyd had simply banked the fire in Coltrane’s apocalyptic vision, but that’s too cold an assessment. His playing is simultaneously shy and verbose, like Joe Henderson’s, and its whirling torrents and keening cries paint in watercolors what Coltrane rendered in oils. Almost nobody, except maybe Lloyd himself, can remember exactly how much time has passed since his last Chicago appearance–it’s been at least 15 years–but as if to make up for it he’s bringing a fantastic band with him. It features guitarist John Abercrombie, whose neoromantic style, forged in the 70s, still resonates with mystery; imperturbably brilliant bassist Marc Johnson, leader of the quartet Bass Desires, standing in for the album’s Dave Holland; and drummer Billy Higgins, who’s justifiably legendary for his sparkling, sanguine take on free jazz and hard bop in the 60s, playing his first Chicago nightclub date since an illness nearly took his life three years ago. If you catch only one show in May, make it this one. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, May 7 and 8, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, May 9, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/D. Darn.