Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams
When the great Charles Lloyd assembled The Marvels – Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland for the outstanding I Long To See You in 2016, the result was sublime and fresh, drawing on Lloyd’s later years of ECM recordings that mixed with the unique vibe of Frisell and Leisz to create a new avenue of expression for all involved. Shortly after the album’s release the lead-off cut, Dylan’s “Masters of War” was released on video with the iconic Lucinda Williams on vocals, and it was hoped that more from that collaboration would be released.
Our wishes were granted. Vanished Gardens is the result, with Williams joining The Marvels to create a luminous work of art that succeeds both as jazz and protest music. Opening with Lloyd’s “Defiant”, the saxophonist has rarely been more in control of his craft. Nestled between Frisell’s almost-ambient guitar and Leisz’s unworldly pedal steel, Lloyd’s tenor wavers with a lazy vibrato, notes slipping in and out of consciousness, with Frisell echoing the lines. But it hardly prepares you for “Dust”, the Williams song from her 2016 release The Ghosts of Highway 20 that used a poem of her father, the late Miller Williams as a starting point. Williams has gone from the up-tempo alt-country songstress of her earlier work to a more moody, introspective artist, and the combination of her raspy growl coupled with the Lloyd’s sax slays you. Her song “Ventura” (from her 2004 album World Without Tears) is recast to a smoky noir, with Frisell and The Marvels sounding like a bar band from some unseen Harry Dean Stanton movie.
“We’ve Come Too Far To Turn Around” is vital protest music, and if current events didn’t bring the song about, I’d be surprised: “We have swallowed the liquid of his lies/Tolerated the one we despise/Been led astray by his disguise/And fooled by his beliefs”, all to rousing backing not unlike the great Staple Singer’s cuts from the Civil Rights era. Very moving to those of us who sadly wonder where our country went.
After a jaunt thru Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood” featuring Lloyd on tenor with Frisell, the record ends with Williams joining the two on a stirring rendition of “Angel” by Jimi Hendrix. It is 5:53 of perfection, with rolling lines from Lloyd and the delicate guitar of Frisell, rapturous. Vanished Gardens captures some of today’s most compelling artists in full flight, a record of sadness, wonder and ultimately, hope. Bravo.