May 2024

Blue Note Records 00602458167948 (CD), 00602458167962 (LP)
Format: CD and LP

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Charles Lloyd recorded Discovery!—his first album as a leader—in 1964, but he had been appearing as a sideman on drummer Chico Hamilton’s records since 1960. Since then, Lloyd has released more than 50 LPs as leader; his newest, The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow, is his 11th for Blue Note Records. The label released it in March, on Lloyd’s 86th birthday. Last year, he released three albums. Trios: Chapel, Trios: Ocean, and Trios: Sacred Thread each featured a different lineup of musicians. Lloyd’s creativity and vigor are such that these three discs contain no filler.

The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow

Lloyd had envisioned the quartet for the sessions that led to The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow in 2020, to dispel the gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic. He describes the album as “an offering of tenderness” in his liner notes. In the spring of 2023, the schedules of the musicians aligned. Pianist Jason Moran, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Brian Blade joined Lloyd, on various saxes and flute, to record the two discs that comprise the album. Moran and Grenadier had both played with Lloyd before, but this was Blade’s first session with him.

Blade uses mallets on the drums for a softer touch on “Defiant, Tender Warrior,” and is soon joined by Moran and Grenadier. The tune maintains a relaxed pace, with Moran creating a calm pastoral setting for Lloyd’s flowing melodies. Grenadier provides his own melodic counterpoint to Lloyd, who adds an edge to some of the flurries of notes that pepper the track. He varies the intensity of his statement, but never rises to a shout, speaking in a relaxed melodic voice that conveys a feeling of wisdom and reflection.

Moran has the opening minute of “Monk’s Dance.” The pianist plays sharp but graceful runs that pay homage to Thelonious Monk, and carry a hint of ragtime and other jazz touchstones. Lloyd enters, playing an animated opening theme that he then deconstructs and fractures. Throughout the track, he hews to his opening statement to help guide us through often exhilarating, quick melody lines. Blade and Grenadier swing hard, and Moran fills in behind Lloyd with rich, complex harmonies that help keep the saxophonist aloft. Moran’s solo mixes elegance with occasionally jagged lines, evoking Monk’s spirit, but in Moran’s own voice.

On “Booker’s Garden,” Lloyd pays tribute to his childhood friend Booker Little, the great jazz trumpet player who died at the age of 23 from kidney failure. Lloyd announces the theme on flute, with an airy melody that is elegiac and beautiful. Blade’s cymbal work and light taps on the snare underline the exuberance of Lloyd’s expansive improvisation. Moran and Grenadier play brief, lovely solos that pick up on the spirit of the song, which conveys sorrow at Little’s passing alongside the joy that Lloyd and his friend experienced when they were beginning their lives in music.

The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow

Several compositions on The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow have appeared in different arrangements on other albums. Lloyd first recorded “Beyond Darkness” in 2002 for his album Lift Every Voice, and returned to it last year on Trios: Chapel. For this version, Moran’s fills in behind Lloyd’s flute, playing with sustained chords and brief, pointed arpeggios. Moran’s solo gains immensely from the sympathetic, understated support provided by Blade and Grenadier. A version of “Cape to Cairo” first appeared on All My Relations (1995), but this one is more focused, with a stronger blues current running through it.

The title track is bouncy and has a distinctly gospel streak, while “The Ghost of Lady Day” contains both lyricism and conflict. Lloyd’s tribute to Billie Holiday effectively conveys her life and art, as well as Lloyd’s emotional reaction to hearing the great singer and the inspiration her memory has provided him for so many years. “Sky Valley, Spirit of the Forest” travels through several movements in its 15 minutes. The first section is somewhat placid, but an edginess and intensity begin to seep in. As the song tumbles along, jagged passages alternate with sections that feel more contemplative and hopeful, and the final moments close the track with a bracing feeling of triumph.

Moods and melodic themes recur in The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow. At first, I thought a little editing would have resulted in a shorter, tighter album. By the third play, I felt that repeat listening was allowing me to connect the album’s threads, revealing the completeness of Lloyd’s statement. Here, his music occasionally evokes the frustration and bad temper that COVID-19 caused, but gives respite in the passages of hope and love that reassert themselves in the music.

The quartet recorded The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow at Santa Barbara Sound Design. Dom Camardella recorded and mixed the album, under coproducer Joe Harley’s supervision. Kevin Gray mastered the CD and LP releases of the album, as well as the high-resolution download version. The instruments were arrayed across a wide soundstage on my system, ringing out clearly with impressive depth and realism.

On vinyl, I heard a bit more separation, more bass attack, and more sparkle and shimmer from the cymbals. I also heard Lloyd’s breath coming through the saxophone better on the LP. The CD sounds excellent, however, and I’m glad to have this music in both formats. The LP, pressed in Germany at Pallas, is first-rate—quiet and flat. As I said, I’m very happy with the CD, but the LP gave me a slightly better sense of being in the room with the musicians. It’s worth the $38 price tag, which is about twice the cost of the CD.

The fact that Charles Lloyd is still alive and well at 86 is cause for celebration. That he is still making remarkable music at this stage of his life and career is miraculous. The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow is a testament to the power of music.

. . . Joseph Taylor