Return to the Fillmore Auditorium's '60's Heyday

Friday afternoons around 4PM, after a hard week’s schooling back in 1968, my roommates and I at Cornell University engaged in a particular ritual: one of us would go into the garage behind our rented house and retrieve our well-hidden pot “stash.” The most skilled roller amongst the 4 of us would produce a doobie, and then we’d smoke away our tensions while listening to? Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower (Atlantic SD 1473), recorded live at the 1966 Monterrey Jazz Festival.

Though we weren’t hard-core jazz fans, Forest Flower was our “go to” first choice every Friday. Why? I can’t recall who had turned my on to the album, but the dreamy title tune (actually two pieces played back-to-back), which Lloyd had written and first performed while musical director of the Chico Hamilton Quartet combined a hypnotic, tuneful melody with a soothing rhythmic flow propelled by Jack DeJohnette’s compact, yet busy drumming and Cecil McBee’s nimble bass. The outdoor vibe was brilliantly captured by Wally Heider’s microphones and with eyes closed, you could almost feel the caress of the moist California coastline air. By the time the 18 minute song (which took up all of side one) had ended, and the stylus had tripped the auto-return mechanism of my Dual 1009SK, we had been transported to another place where our scholastic cares no longer mattered. The effect Forest Flower had on a generation was easily measurable: it sold over 1,000,000 copies—the first jazz album to do so.

Charles Lloyd’s connection to Northern California’s nascent ‘60’s hippie/psychedelic scene and the hold his music had on a young generation of rock’n rollers was a curious, though not inexplicable phenomenon born of his musical background, his spiritual and philosophical outlook and his living and working in the Bay area during that momentous time. In retrospect, listening to this set recorded live at the Fillmore in early 1967, key to Lloyd’s generational hold was Keith Jarrett whose playing at the time was, for the most part, downright funky.

The hold John Coltrane had on Lloyd and the way in which the quartet was molded in the classic Coltrane/Tyner/Garrison/Jones tradition is obvious on “Tribal Dance,” the album’s opener. But while Lloyd’s spirituality is evident, Coltrane’s searching intensity and difficult “out of the pocket,” explorations aren’t. Lloyd didn’t tailor his music for the rock audience, it was the music he wanted to make, regardless of who might be listening. Lasting 10 minutes, “Tribal Dance,” was not that far removed from a Grateful Dead jam, and indeed, the group shared the bill with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and other San Francisco-based rock giants.

Lloyd’s bluesy, funk chops can be traced back to his Memphis, TN birth and his musical coming of age, playing alto for B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Howlin’ Wolf and Johnny Ace. All of that and more is explored in the excellent liner notes by Chicago based former Tracking Angle contributor Mitch Meyers.

This set, recorded live at the Fillmore Auditorium, demonstrates the group’s skill navigating the hippie backwaters without compromise. It opens with the most “difficult” piece, “Tribal Dance,” takes a short break with a meditative Lloyd flute piece, “Temple Bells, and connects with a funky Jarrett composition “Is it Really the Same?” Side two peters out with a pander: an “easy listening” take of Lennon/McCartney’s “Here There and Everywhere.” Side two picks up where side one left off, with the funky title tune that must have had the audience frugging en masse. Jarrett punctuates the simple chord blocks with some intricate runs that let you know he’s “slumming” through the ditty.

Next up is “Sunday Morning,” another funky crowd pleasing Jarrett piece that lets the keyboardist repeatedly vamp through a simple figure, adding textures and intensity as he goes. It’s essentially a placeholder for the finale, Lloyd’s “Memphis Dues Again/Island Blues,” which opens with a meaty, complex, honkin’n squealin’ sax solo that’s “out there,” but easily within the grasp of the rock audience. Filled with humor, melodic insight, and pure technique, the solo entices all these years later, as does what it lead to: another raucous, funky, familiar blues riff that the group propels forward through the finale.

Wally Heider’s wide soundstage recording trades some immediacy for the room’s natural reverb. Lloyd inhabits stage-left (right channel), Jarrett is stage-right, while DeJohnette’s drum kit sits in the center, miked to allow the kit’s reflection to develop and spread across the soundstage. The result is a pronounced lively hall sound, that’s best appreciated with the volume up to approximate what you might hear standing fairly close to the stage. Not an “audiophile” recording, but an effective one, overall, aided by outstanding all analog mastering from the original tape and high 180g pressing quality. Another outstanding toe tapping effort from 4 Men With Beards.