I have a little sub-collection of music reserved for a specific day and time: 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, a fifteen minute work break. Time to relax, reflect on the week past, plan for the weekend, deep deep breath. I recently added something from my long, long, time ago, a favorite jazz album of my entire family, 1967’s Forest Flower by Charles Lloyd, a recording of a live performance at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Lloyd has had a long and distinguished career, but enjoyed one stunning surprise megahit with this 1967 album, featuring Cecil McBee, Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett, selling over a million copies. The original LP had only five songs, but the Rhino CD reissue has an additional LP of material from something called Soundtrack.
The masterpiece is “Forest Flower” itself, a two-part suite consisting of “Forest Flower: Sunrise” and “Forest Flower: Sunset,” taking up the entirety of Side 1 on the original vinyl release almost a half-century ago, and of these two, “Sunset” is the moment when the Charles Lloyd Quartet ascends to the innermost circle of jazz “Paradiso.” It’s hard to believe that these guys were so young and had played together for maybe a year (Jarrett might not even have reached legal drinking age!), because early in “Sunset” they achieve the kind of synergy that most quartets need a few decades to achieve.
It’s a matter of knowing when your bandmates are pulling back to allow you to push forward and knowing when to pull back and let the other musicians shine. Bassist McBee sets what remains one of my favorite bass lines ever and holds it for the rest of the song, but he doesn’t disappear because the other musicians know when to quiet down and let the audience he’s still there. At about 3:15 Jarrett takes over and unleashes one of his trademark solos, and I still don’t know how he does it. It’s total chaos, totally atonal, totally arrhythmic, totally anti-harmony–and therefore total composition, totally tonal, totally rhythmic, and totally harmonious. I have no idea why it works. Anyone else tries that and it’s a mess.
The 6:30 mark presents a good opportunity to crank up the bass as at that point, everyone except McBee quiets down so you can enjoy his work. Meanwhile, a propellor plane flies over the audience at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and somehow even that fits in with the music. Definitely their day that day.
“Forest Flower: Sunset” fades quietly to its conclusion after a little over ten minutes of four guys hitting career peaks simultaneously becoming–for those ten minutes–the greatest jazz band in history. So quiet, so calm, so beautiful.
The ancient Greeks had a special term called aristeia or something like that (I will feel shocked if that spelling is correct): those passages in the Iliad when one of the Greek warriors briefly reaches a level far above his norm and becomes invincible to the point where a mere mortal like Diomedes can hold his own against Olympian gods. Aristeia or however one spells it is a word that could use a revival as it has so many uses in so many fields of endeavor: Pablo Sandoval’s three homer performance in Game One of the 2012 World Series; Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the short story for which she’s most remembered; or Ortueta-Sanz, a chess game that ends with five consecutive moves which remain the only reason anyone remembers Jose Sanz Aguado.
Or “Forest Flower: Sunset:” enough reason to remember the Charles Lloyd Quartet.
Vonn Scott Bair