Charles Lloyd – Arrows Into Infinity

arrows(ECM DVD 378 0649, Blu-ray 378 0650)

The Memphis-born musician has been recording for ECM since 1989, but of course his musical career goes way, way back before then, to playing as a teenager with bluesman Howlin’ Wolf and jazz pianist Harold Mabern, as well as with his childhood friend, trumpeter Booker Little.

He began to attract attention in drummer Chico Hamilton’s band, alongside guitarist Gabor Szabo, and then in the Cannonball Adderley Sextet. But it was with his live at Monterey album, Forest Flower, with his own band, including youngsters Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, that Lloyd hit stratospheric heights for a jazz musician. He ended up leading that band on the first trip to Soviet Russia not organised as an official US government visit. It made history.

This film, made by Lloyd’s wife of his latter years, artist Dorothy Darr, and film maker Jeffery Morse, reminds me of those music documentaries you see on BBC4 on a Friday evening: lots of live footage, lots of talking heads, a smattering of stills of billboards and atmospheric photographs from the times. But this, it should be stressed, is a most superior form of such documentaries.

This is mostly due to Darr, I would guess, who is from that classic jazz archetype: the completely dedicated woman who brings a musician out of the wilderness and back to a revitalised career. No one knows Charles Lloyd better, no one has his interests more at heart, and no one could make a film about him with this level of understanding and insight.

It’s all enthralling. One talking head says: “I was never really a flower child; I was a Forest Flower child. And then there is the classic scene of Charles playing pool with Ornette Coleman – two of jazz’s iconic figures, now old men simply having fun. As another of the talking heads, The Band’s leader and guitarist Robbie Robertson, points out, they were bound to get on: one who liked to break the rules (Coleman) and one for whom there were no rules (Lloyd). Other talking heads include Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Don Was, Jim Keltner, Geri Allen, Manfred Eicher and Stanley Crouch. And Lloyd himself is a marvellously eloquent and patient interviewee.

Following the huge success of Forest Flower, Lloyd fell into the classic ditch that appears hard on the heals of rock star status: it contained drugs but it didn’t have musical or philosophical satisfaction. Luckily for us he found his way out, but the way he chose was away from the limelight. He was living a hermit’s life in Big Sur, California, existing on lemon juice, when Darr took charge of him. It was to take 20 years and a visit from French pianist Michel Petrucciani before Lloyd would be playing much jazz in public again.

His subsequent ECM recordings and tours have been filled with riches – great bands, marvellously led, and ever moving forward, ever searching. There is substantial concert footage with musicians including Jason Moran and Zakir Hussain, and home video of Lloyd with his beloved friend, the drummer Billy Higgins, including some of the last music they played together days before Higgins’ death.

Not only is Arrows Into Infinity an inspiring film about one man, it’s a film of hope and a reminder of the power of this music called jazz. Here is a taste:

  • To buy Charles Lloyd’s Arrows Into Infinity go here.


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