Arrows Into Infinity: Tracing Saxophonist Charles Lloyd's Flight Paths

Lloyd celebrating his 75th birthday in concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year, with pianist Jason Moran/photo Dorothy Darr.

I’ve long been fascinated with the music of saxophonist Charles Lloyd for its soaring beauty and unwavering focus and with Lloyd, the man, for his singular story. “Arrows Into Infinity,” a documentary about Lloyd directed and produced by his wife, Dorothy Darr, and Jeffery Morse, and recently released in DVD and Blu-ray formats by Mr. Lloyd’s longtime music label, ECM, open a window wide on these subjects, distilling inherent mysteries and complicated truths without diluting them.

Darr told me in an interview for my piece in today’s Wall Street Journal that she aimed to provide “a fuller picture of who Charles is as a human being and an artist, navigating his life and upholding his ideals.” This is no straight chronology. “It reflects Charles’s speaking style, which is not really linear,” Ms. Darr said.

The film’s narrative is fluid and poetic, pausing just long enough for interviewees to express Mr. Lloyd’s wide-ranging impact through the years. There is also the sort of rare and satisfying performance footage jazz fans crave, most notably of Mr. Lloyd’s quartet (including pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee) at the 1966 Antibes Jazz Festival.
The film peeks into Mr. Lloyd’s private moments.
Perhaps best of all, it homes in on relationships, which have always formed jazz’s spine: with Higgins, which began when Mr. Lloyd was in college; with trumpeter Booker Little, Mr. Lloyd’s high-school best friend and mentor, who died tragically in 1961 at 23; and with musicians roughly half his age in a current quartet as compelling as his 1960s band. And with Darr, whose artwork on CD packaging has long framed Mr. Lloyd’s music, and who was his partner along the road back from seclusion in the 1970s and ’80s.
It also delves into Lloyd’s important and early bond with guitarist Gábor Szábo, which is showcased in brilliant fashion on the two previously unreleased recordings now available on “Manhattan Stories” (Resonance Records). Here is Lloyd, recorded in 1965 performances at now-defunct New York City venues Judson Hall and Slugs’, fresh from a stint in drummer Chico Hamilton’s band, soon to form his ground-breaking band with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette, and leading a quartet that included Szabó, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Pete La Roca.
You can sense the intuitive bond between Lloyd and Szábo, the way they challenge and support each other, the way they push the music’s form.
“It was a specific time and place,” Lloyd told critic Don Heckman, whose notes accompany the music, and who organized the Judson Hall date within an avant-garde festival. “We all felt like the boundaries were being dissolved and we could do or try anything. This is a music of freedom and wonder — we were young and on the move.”
Funny: Lloyd is now 76, and recently named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. Alongside musicians decades his junior in his wonderful current quartet, he exudes the same feeling.

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