Listening to the Charles Lloyd Quartet perform live is like meeting up with old friends for dinner, but whereas you've haven't seen the group in years, they've never fallen out of touch. This is exciting, yet familiar, to begin with, but then the inside jokes and veiled references start to pile up. You like everyone at the table, but soon you realize you're not so much participating in the evening, as you are searching for a way to connect with what's happening in front of you. That's what Friday's performance by the Charles Lloyd Quartet became, but the show was not without its bright points.
To start the evening, drummer Eric Harland, bassist Larry Grenadier, and pianist Gerald Clayton created an imposing atmosphere. Rapid-fire bursts on the snare, flurries of bass notes, and the subtle tinkling of the piano provided a compelling backdrop for Lloyd's incredibly smooth and natural playing. But while Lloyd's lead work on the saxophone is faultless, the quartet's music never seems to rise and fall together as it should. Save for a composition by Thelonious Monk that offered a bit of breathing room between the instruments, the quartet's original works often felt too dense for the audience to latch onto. It wasn't until one or more of the performers on the stage stood back to allow for a solo did the show really seem to engage the crowd.
Each performer is a gifted musician. This was on full display the entire evening, but was more prominent when each was given his own moment to shine and inject a little personality into the show. Of particular note was Harland's drum work. From raking his sticks across the cymbal to create atmospheric shrieks to a muscular and aggressive volley of percussion, Harland was incredibly dynamic behind the kit.
As the other members of his band soloed, Lloyd would stalk the stage, stepping back to watch them perform. These portions of the evening were most compelling. With just the piano, bass, and drum rumbling along in their own particular ways, there was still room for the audience to catch onto the groove, while leaving an air of excitement. But whatever avant garde soundscapes the band was creating would be quickly abandoned as Lloyd joined the fray with his impeccable, yet predictable playing.
Perhaps the performance would have been better served in a venue that would have allowed for a bit of movement on the audience's part. The Gaillard Center, while an excellent venue acoustically, doesn't really allow for those in the crowd to do much more than tap their feet.
Lloyd took a brief moment during the show to thank the audience and say that he was excited to be performing inside the Gaillard, compared to their usual outdoor venues in Charleston.
"We go on a lot of journeys. We don't come back the same," Lloyd said in a bit of laid-back patter, before adding that he's glad to play indoors this particular evening.
But the show proved to be a journey that Lloyd and his band took alone. Maybe an open venue, allowing the audience to physically connect with what they were hearing, would have bridged the disconnect between the crowd and the performers. Instead, the show felt more like we were all standing outside of a spinning carousel waiting for a chance to grab on and join the ride.