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* JAZZ REVIEW

Lloyd Proves to Be a True Original

April 30, 1998|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Artistic identity is as vital to jazz as it is to the other arts. The capacity to generate an expressive singularity, one that is instantly identifiable, is as important to a jazz improviser as it is to a novelist, painter or dancer.

In his early years, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who opened a five-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday before a full, responsive crowd, was often linked with John Coltrane. But his resurgence in the '90s has produced a far more personal sound and style. Traces of Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman still occasionally course through his improvisations. The sum result, however, is an eloquent, articulate locution that springs from Lloyd's rich history in jazz. In a decade of neoclassic retrofitting, he is a rare original.

The music, some of it new, some tracing back to such well-known jazz numbers as "Forest Flower," dominated the set. Graying, wearing a beret and concentrating solely upon the music, Lloyd was unflagging in the pursuit of his solo objectives. His sound, especially in ballad-like passages, was warm, even tender. But he rarely stayed in one spot, dancing into his high overtone register, dashing out quick little riffs, scouring his horn with wild, fiery, avant-garde sounds.

Lloyd's setting was particularly felicitous. Bobo Stenson, the imaginative Swedish pianist (proclaimed a "National Treasure" by the King of Sweden), has been a member of Lloyd's quartet for years, and the interplay between the pair was a marvel to behold--playful, challenging, everything one expects from the spontaneity of jazz improvisation. Bassist Darek Oles, who seems adaptable to every situation, was the solid foundation that allowed Lloyd and Stenson to rove freely.

Most fascinating of all, there was yet another reunion between Lloyd and drummer Billy Higgins. Forty years ago, both were among the exploratory Los Angeles jazz scene centered on players such as Coleman, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and others. Reunited occasionally over the past few years, they now work together with passionate synergy. Higgins, always smiling while he works, had an even bigger grin than usual, clearly enjoying every minute of the constantly gripping music.

BE THERE

The Charles Lloyd Quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill through Saturday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 466-2210. $15 cover tonight, $20 cover Friday and Saturday, with two-drink minimum. Shows at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

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