Music is a healing force. It has the ability to transcend boundaries, it can touch the heart directly, it can speak to a depth of the spirit where no words are needed. It is a most powerful form of communication and expression of beauty.
– Charles Lloyd
On 15 March, Charles Lloyd was 75, an occasion marked by a spell-binding concert performed before the Temple of Dendur at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. In an act of wonderful generosity museum and artist have made the video recording of the concert available on the Met’s website. We watched it the other evening, and it was – no exaggeration – a transcendental experience.
For over two hours, Lloyd, supported by his New Quartet and Greek vocalist Maria Farantouri, performed a programme of dazzling variety and creativity to an audience arranged on a raised platform in front of the temple as well as elsewhere around the museum’s Sackler Wing. The concert consisted of four varied sections, opening with Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran duetting on tunes by Strayhorn and Ellington and the hymn ‘Abide With Me’, followed by a sequence in which bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland came on stage to form the full quartet. Next, the quartet were joined by the mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, the pianist’s wife, for a spirited rendition of ‘Go Down Moses’, with its refrain of ‘Let my people go’, followed by Lloyd’s ‘New Anthem’, with its chorus ‘Roll on till the sweet victory is won’. The last hour was devoted to the Greek Suite from the 2011 album The Athens Concert, a live recording made at the Herod Atticus Odeon in Athens in June 2010.
‘Kratissa ti zoi mou’, lyrics by George Seferis
For me, The Athens Concert represents a sublime peak in Charles Lloyd’s illustrious career, a stirring blend of Greek folk songs, Byzantine hymns and improvised jazz. To perform this magnificent cycle of Greek music Lloyd and the quartet were joined on stage by Maria Farantouri, the singer revered in her native land as the legendary voice of resistance during the Greek military junta of the late 1960s; singing the banned protest songs of Mikis Theodorakis she kept alive the hope of freedom, her songs the embodiment of the Greek soul. With her was the master of the lyra Socratis Sinopoulos, bowing a politiki lyra – a small, pear-shaped lyre.
Spring is late
and when appears it will be dull
like a land bent with age
like an embrace without children.
lean over the earth
like trees hanging in mid-air
with no roots in life.
– from ‘Requiem’ by Agathi Dimitrouka
The words and music of the Athens Suite express the pain and yearning sadness of exile and loss as well as containing passages of joyous exuberance.
In the dry soil of my heart
a cactus has grown.
It’s been more than twenty centuries
since I dreamed of jasmine.
My hair smelled of jasmine
my voice had taken something
of its delicate perfume.
My clothes smelled of jasmine
my voice had taken something
of its delicate perfume.
But the cactus is not bad;
it simply doesn’t know it and is afraid
Sadly I look at the cactus;
where did all those centuries go?
In the dry soil of my heart . . .
– ‘In the Dry Soil’, from ‘The Sun and Time’ by Mikis Theodorakis
The spirit of this music is best captured in this review of the Athens Concert CD by Ian Patterson for All About Jazz:
At forty minutes, the eleven segments of the three suites make for a powerful collective statement. Haunting lyricism and gravitas dance around each other in beautifully shifting tides, and Lloyd’s sparingly used flute and taragato combine with lyra to add a further dimension to the music. Farantouri conveys a great range of emotions, from lament to incantation, and from operatic drama to unbridled joy. Lloyd, Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and Harland all enjoy their moments in the sun, but it is the empathetic quartet support of Farantouri which impresses most, buoying her and lifting her—and the ensemble, in turn— to transcendent heights of expression.
If the best music is experienced live, then those who attended the Odeon of Herodes Atticus—at the foot of the Acropolis, Athens—to witness Lloyd’s New Quartet, Farantouri, Sinopoulos and Farazis one summer evening, can consider themselves truly fortunate; the music captured here is sublime and, like the best art, is surely timeless in its appeal.
In the sleeve notes to the Athens Concert CD, Lloyd explains how his association with Maria Farantouri and Greek music began:
I first heard Maria sing on a cold November night in my home town, Santa Barbara. … From her first notes I felt such a power and depth of humanity; she is a modern wonder rising up from the ruins of civilization. She … introduced me to ‘Vlefaro mou’ by Nikos Kypourgos and several songs by Mikis Theodorakis. Mikis’s composition, ‘Kratissa ti zoi mou’, with haunting lyrics by Nobel laureate poet George Seferis took root in my repertoire.
Each year since then, Lloyd has returned to Greece ‘to walk through the sage, pungently fragrant in the hot sun, swim in the languid waters of the blue sea and work on the music’ and hear Maria sing songs ‘as ancient as the stones of Delphi’.
As we started expanding on the ideas, we brought in Socratis whose mystical sound on lyra adds an entirely ‘other’ dimension. … Jason, Reuben and Eric are adventurous explorers, and it makes my heart sing that they continue to take the journey with me. Patiently, Maria and I built upon this dream of creating a musical bridge between our two worlds. This dream became manifest in the Athens Concert.
As for Maria Farantouri, in the same sleeve notes she wrote:
After our first meeting, my dear friend Charles has been coming to Greece very often and each time, I try to show him something of my country. The Parthenon, Mycenae, Epidaurus, the little bars of Kerameicos at night, the feasts at our homes, our cool courtyards and the Greek summer. Also, our poetry, and the songs of Mikis Theodorakis, Eleni Karaindrou, Nikos Kypourgos and Agathi Dimitrouka who wrote the lyrics for ‘Requiem’. I wanted Charles to hear the ancient Greek words as well as the regional dialects of the centuries-old language of ours…. All these elements meet in the outpouring topics of the Greek soul: departure, nostalgia, love and exile.
Maria Farantouri sees this music as ‘an expression of a deeper need to narrate together the crossing of two different musical worlds, to throw light from a new angle to the memories, the wanderings, the dreams of our ancestors, and all the time keep our sight turned towards the future’.
This need brought us to the stage of Herod Atticus Odeon on a beautiful summer night, under a bright moon and a vigilant Acropolis. … Every breath, beat, and touch on the keyboard or the strings was communicating something of the secret meaning of things, lifting our spirit and our senses.
At the end of this two-hour tour de force, Maria Farantouri sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Lloyd before the musicians played ‘Yanni Mou’, the joyous song song that concludes the Athens Concert album. If you love jazz or appreciate the merging of musics from different places and traditions, do watch the Met’s recording of the concert. YouTube has these performances of the Athens Suite from a concert in Berlin in 2011:
Kratissa ti zoi mou (Berlin, 2011)
Requiem (Berlin 2011)
Greek Suite part 1 (Berlin, 2011)
Greek Suite part 2 (Berlin, 2011)
Yanni mou (Berlin, 2011)
It is almost as if Charles Lloyd has had two lives in jazz: he was one of the first jazz artists to sell a million copies of a recording, but then he surprised the music world by walking away from performing just at the point that he was dubbed a jazz superstar.
In 1965, Lloyd formed his first quartet, a brilliant ensemble that introduced the jazz world to the talents of pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee. Their first release together was a studio recording, Dream Weaver, and was followed by Forest Flower: Live at Monterey (1966). That made history as one of the first jazz recordings to sell a million copies, becoming a stunning crossover success. The quartet was the first jazz group to appear at the Fillmore in San Francisco where they shared the billing with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
But then Lloyd disbanded the quartet and dropped from sight, withdrawing to pursue an inner journey at Big Sur, the wild haven on the California coast. In 1986, after being hospitalized with a nearly fatal medical condition, Lloyd returned to music, largely through the encouragement of the incomparable Manfred Eicher, producer at ECM records.
In the new century, Lloyd would go on to greater successes and even further diversity on albums like The Water Is Wide, Mirror, Sangam, Lift Every Voice and Jumping the Creek. Which Way Is East (2004), was a double-disc set of home recordings with close friend and drum legend Billy Higgins, made just a few months before Higgins’ death. Sangam was an exhilerating trio recording with drummer Eric Harland and tabla master Zakir Hussain. This year, Hagar’s Song is a duo record with Jason Moran, the pianist of his current quartet, which ahs been together now for six years. For me, Moran is close to being the best jazz pianist and the current Charles Lloyd quartet the most dynamic and exciting group playing jazz at present.
The same line-up that played at the Met last week are due to perform at the Barbican in London at the end of April. We’ve got tickets, and after this taster I can’t wait.
The blues saturates Lloyd’s music of today in its emotionally directed soulfulness. Like the blues singer, his playing is instinctive, sincere, and affecting. You don’t just hear Charles Lloyd—you feel him.
– Matt Lescovik, All About Jazz
- Charles Lloyd live at the Met: watch the entire concert
- Charles Lloyd and his New Quartet: great photos by Daniel Sheehan
- Charles Lloyd Quartets: All about Jazz review of ECM albums
- Charles Lloyd: His Mystical Journey (All About Jazz, 2007)
- Charles Lloyd & Maria Farantouri: The Athens Concert (All About Jazz)
- The Athens Concert: Greek soul
- Reflections on Charles Lloyd
- Sounds and Silence: journeying with Manfred Eicher
- ECM: 40 favourites
In these times, when our thoughts turn frequently to the plight of the Greek people, an album emerges that sings triumphantly of the Greek nation’s soul. The Athens Concert is a stunning double CD of a performance by jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri, Greece’s voice of resistance, recorded at the foot of the Acropolis, at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, on a summer night last year.
Since the release of The Water Is Wide in 2000, Charles Lloyd has enjoyed a brilliant renaissance, recovering from the death of his deeply-loved drummer Billy Higgins to forge what is probably the best jazz quartet playing today, with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on double-bass and Eric Harland on drums. Along the way he has gifted us some of the most dazzling jazz albums of the last decade: Hyperion With Higgins, Jumping the Creek, Sangam, and Mirror.
Lloyd has never sounded better than on this album, nor have his three sidemen. But this is not just another album from a great jazz quartet: it is a unique and beautiful document of a collaboration with Greek musicians, Maria Farantouri and Socratis Sinopoulos that includes songs by Mikis Theoedorakis and suites of Greek traditional music based on texts by Greek poets.
I have to admit to never having heard of Maria Farantouri before this – yet she is a modern Greek heroine, loved by Greeks not only for her voice and her interpretations of Greek music, but also for her resolute political activism. In the years of the military junta, living in exile, she was the voice of the Greek resistance and kept the music of Mikis Theodorakis alive during the seven years of the military dictatorship when it was banned in Greece. After returning to Greece in 1974, Farantouri resumed her recording career and in 1989 was elected to the Greek Parliament, serving until 1993 as a Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) MP. Since then she has released a number of albums in different styles, always open to new musical forms. In The Athens Concert we hear her alongside jazz musicians singing music from the Byzantine sacred tradition, folk songs from the Greek islands, blallads written by Charles Lloyd, and Eleni Karaindrou’s ‘Voyage to Cythera’, the theme song from the 1984 film by Greek director Theo Angelopoulos.
Maria Farantouri was discovered by Theodorakis at age sixteen and she has subsequentlycome to be acknowledged by both the composer and the Greek people) as the peerless interpreter of Theodorakis.
(Googling Farantouri, I discovered an album that she recorded as a 16-year old, The Ballad of Mauthausen. It consists of a suite of songs written by Mikis Theodorakis that were based on the experiences of the Greek Jewish playwright Iakovos Kambanellis in the Nazi concentration camp located in Austria. Kambanellis wrote four poems inspired by a photo of an unknown girl which he found in the camp and which he kept with him that Theodorakis then set to music. Listening to this powerful and moving album, it seems unbelievable that you are hearing the voice of a girl just out of high school. Already her voice is the rich and mature contralto that is heard on The Athens Concert).
Maria Farantouri and Charles Lloyd have been friends for many years, but this is their first project together. In essays for the CD release, they each recall the course of their collaboration. Charles Lloyd:
The human voice can capture the heart more swiftly and directly than any other instrument. It can soothe, excite, inspire and lift us to the hyperions. I first heard Maria sing on a cold November night in my home town, Santa Barbara. … From her first notes I felt such a power and depth of humanity; she is a modern wonder rising up from the ruins of civilization. … I felt her voice would be a perfect vehicle for my song ‘Blow Wind”. She, in turn, introduced me to ‘Vlefaro mou’ by NikosKypourgos and several songs by Mikis Theodorakis. Mikis’s composition, ‘Kratissa ti zoi mou’, with haunting lyrics by poet George Seferis took root in my repertoire. … As we started expanding on the ideas, we brought in Socratis, whose mystical sound on lyra adds an entirely ‘other’ dimension. … Jason, Reuben and Eric are adventurous explorers, and it makes my heart sing that they continue to take the journey with me. Patiently, Maria and I built upon this dream of creating a musical bridge between our two worlds. This dream became manifest in the Athens Concert.
After our first meeting, my dear friend Charles has been coming to Greece very often and each time, I try to show him something of my country. The Parthenon, Mycenae, Epidaurus, the little bars of Kerameicos at night, the feasts at our homes, our cool courtyards and the Greek summer. Also, our poetry, and the songs of Mikis Theodorakis, Eleni Karaindrou, Nikos Kypourgos and Agathi Dimitrouka who wrote the lyrics for ”Requiem”. I wanted Charles to hear the ancient Greek words as well as the regional dialects of the centuries-old language of ours. The ‘Hymn to the Holy Trinity”, written in the third century AD, an amalgamation of late Antiquity and early Byzantium. Also the pentatonic laments of Epirus, the Aegean Sea and finally the songs of the Black Sea. … All these elements meet in the outpouring topics of the Greek soul: departure, nostalgia, love and exile.
What strikes you on listening to this astonishingly beautiful album is that you are hearing two voices – Maria Farantouri’s warm contralto and Charles Lloyd’s saxophone, which has always sounded voice-like. This sense of two voices intertwined is best revealed in the piece that opens the second CD and my personal favourite – ‘Prayer’ a wordless song, written by Lloyd, on which both voices search and strive for something ineffable, the one echoing the other.
The concert opens with perhaps the most beautiful notes sung by Charles Lloyd, Maria Farantouri’s voice joining him on ‘I Kept Hold of My Life’, adapted by Mikis Theodorakis from the haunting George Seferis poem, ‘Epiphany’ (full text below):
I kept hold of my life
The quartet then swing into a jaunty reading of Lloyd’s ‘Dream Weaver’, one of only four tunes from Lloyd that feature in the programme, and a great version. Following that we get another Lloyd composition – ‘Blow Wind’ – with lyrics sung in English by Farantouri:
Where are we
that the wind won’t blow?
‘Requiem’, a poem by Agathi Dimitrouka set to music by Lloyd, leads into the first of the Greek Suite that forms the central element of the concert. The Suite opens with Farantouri singing the original text of the 3rd century ‘Hymn to the Holy Trinity’, from the oldest known manuscript of a Christian hymn to contain both lyrics and musical notation. Two Theodorakis songs follow – ‘In the Dry Soil’ and ‘In the Paradise Gardens’ before Eleni Karaindrou’s ‘Voyage to Cythera’ closes the first half.
The second part of the concert begins with the wordless ‘Prayer’ then continues the Greek Suite, here consisting of a succession of songs from different regions of Greece. The encore, ‘Yanni mou’ (My Yanni), a traditional song from Epirus region, makes a rousing and passionate finale, with Lloyd blowing a delicious Coltrane-like riff.
The music throughout sweeps you along in a swirling, emotional river of sound. The performance represents a brilliant and successful blending of two musical cultures – western jazz and eastern Mediterranean folkloric – and embraces
many moods that are celebratory, yearning and melancholic. For jazz-lovers, this is jazz of the highest order: Charles Lloyd has never sounded better, Jason Moran is positively inspired on piano, and the quartet as a whole perform alongside Farantouri with a commitment that is total and passionate.
There won’t be a better album this year; The Athens Concert is destined to become a classic of jazz and world music.
Lloyd’s collaboration with Greek singer Maria Farantouri demonstrates a rare ability to not just connect two seemingly unconnectable musics, but to create a seamless new whole with unmistakable yet non-paradoxical roots that would be surprising, were it not for the players involved.
– John Kellman, Allaboutjazz
This must have been one hell of a night. How rarely does the atmosphere at a concert come over as powerfully as this? It just bristles with electricity. Maria Farantouri – long associated with the music of composer Mikis Theodorakis – has one of those voices that would strike fear in the hearts of oppressors everywhere and summon hope in those of the oppressed. The way in which she and her two musicians combine with Lloyd and what is arguably his finest group astonishes. Lloyd himself is at his most elegiac on this record but Jason Moran rises just as spectacularly to the occasion, while Rogers and Harland play with an unrivalled sensitivity. There are too many wonderful moments to count here – a gorgeous ‘Requiem’ with a lyric in Greek by Agathi Dimitrouka, three lovely tunes by Theodorakis (‘Cactus’ and ‘Gardens of Paradise’) plus two beautiful suites arranged by pianist Farazis of traditional songs and I haven’t even scratched the surface.
– Duncan Heining, Jazzwise magazine
The Athens Concert: Kratissa ti zoi mou (I Kept Hold of My Life)
The Athens Concert: Vlefaro mou (Oh Eyelid)
The Athens Concert: Taxidi Sta Kythera (Voyage to Cythera)
The Athens Concert: Requiem
Epiphany, 1937 by George Seferis
It’s at this time of year that, walking the streets of this neighbourhood, you will suddenly be assailed by the most intoxicating scent. It took me a while to work out the source (made more difficult by the fact that the odour is more pronounced further from the source): it’s the scent of the blossom of the lime trees that are a feature of the avenues here and which are also conspicuous in Sefton Park (above).
The fragrance of the lime is wonderful, but there is a downside to it, as anyone knows who has parked their car under one. We have a lime outside our house and in the summer months find our car covered in the sticky, sugary secretion of honeydew from the aphids that thrive on limes.
With their large, dark green, heart-shaped leaves limes are a popular shade tree in urban areas. The tree produces its small, sweetly scented white flowers in June and July. After the blossom has faded and fallen, the nut-like fruit, about the size of a pea, hangs on the tree in small clusters (below) that are shed in October.
The scent is so strong you can smell it hundreds of yards away. Bees are especially drawn to limes and find the nectar so intoxicating that they can fall to the ground, stunned. Apparently, honey from lime nectar is has a very distinctive flavour.
A lime (genus Tilia) can grow 130 feet tall and lives on average 500 years. There is a Tilia cordata at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire said to be 2,000 years old. A 900-year-old lime tree that was planted by Empress Cunigundi, wife of Henry II of Germany, stands at the Imperial Castle in Nuremberg.
Lime trees were planted by royal decree along many roads to ensure that the harvest of its flowers was plentiful, since it was valued for its medicinal properties. Sitting under lime tree was said to cure epilepsy and other nervous illnesses. The flowers would be dried and used to make tea, considered an efficacious treatment for headaches, insomnia and a nervous disposition. The sweet sap was made into wine.
In continental Europe, the tree is more commonly known as the linden. Funnily enough, this was the original English name: lime is an altered form of the Middle English lind, meaning lenient or yielding, referring to the fact that the timber is soft and easily worked making it especially good for wood sculptures. Linden was originally the adjective, ‘made from lime-wood’ (equivalent to ‘wooden’):
Smooth linden best obeys
The carver’s chisel – best his curious work
Displays in nicest touches.
The 17th century sculptor Grinling Gibbons is regarded as the master of limewood carving. He is famous for his virtuoso limewood carvings of flowers, fruits, leaves, small animals, and cherubs, sculpted for Hampton Court Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral, where he made the carvings for the choir stalls (below, click on image to enlarge).
The tree figures in history and folklore across Europe. In Slavic mythology, the linden was considered a sacred tree. In Estonia and Lithuania, women made sacrifices in front of linden trees, asking for fertility and domestic tranquillity. For the Germanic peoples, too, the lime tree was hallowed, and judicial cases were often tried under a lime tree as it was said to inspire fairness and justice. In German folklore, the linden was associated with lovers and romance, and appears as a romantic symbol in medieval poetry from the German lands and eastern Europe. For example, there is a mediaeval love poem by Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170–c. 1230) that begins with a reference to the Tilia tree:
Under the Tilia tree
on the open field,
where we two had our bed,
you still can see
broken flowers and grass.
On the edge of the woods in a vale,
sweetly sang the nightingale.
The tree figures prominently in German culture having been a highly symbolic and hallowed tree in Germanic mythology since pre-Christian times. As in Britain, villagers would assemble to celebrate and dance under a tilia tree, and to hold their judicial thing meetings. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth and help to restore justice and peace. In 1494, Albrecht Durer painted A Linden Tree on a Bastion (below).
When I was in Berlin many years ago, I didn’t realise, as I strolled down the Unter den Linden avenue that had only recently become accessible to all Berliners again after the fall of the Wall, that I was walking under the same trees that line the avenue where I live. The Unter den Linden developed from a bridle path laid out by Elector John George of Brandenburg in the 16th century to reach his hunting grounds in the Tiergarten. It was replaced by a boulevard of linden trees planted in 1647, extending from the city palace to the gates of the city, by order of the Great Elector, Frederick William of Brandenburg.
Above is a view of Linden Allee from 1691, while the photo below shows the modern Unter den Linden.
Another example of the symbolic power of the linden in German culture is this verse by Wilhelm Müller, der Lindenbaum, one of the two dozen poems of Die Winterreise, the cycle set to music by Franz Schubert:
By the fountain, near the gate,
There stands a linden tree;
I have dreamt in its shadows
so many sweet dreams.
I carved on its bark
so many loving words;
I was always drawn to it,
whether in joy or in sorrow.
Today again I had to pass it
in the dead of night.
And even in the darkness
I had to close my eyes.
Its branches rustled
as if calling to me:
“Come here, to me, friend,
Here you will find your peace!”
The frigid wind blew
straight in my face,
my hat flew from my head,
I did not turn back.
Now I am many hours
away from that spot
and still I hear the rustling:
“There you would have found peace!”
On YouTube I found this remarkable video footage of Mikis Theodorakis singing der Lindenbaum before a vast audience in the Alexanderplatz in East Berlin in 1987, two years before the fall of the East German communist regime.
In Poland, too, the linden is a highly revered tree, at the heart of many Polish legends. In Polish, the month of July, Lipiec, is named for the lipa, or linden tree. According to Polish legend an old Linden tree should never be cut down: to do so is certain to result in misfortune for both the axeman and his family. In Christian legend, the tree is linked with the Virgin Mary, whose image was often discerned in the dark branches of the tree. Today in Poland it’s common to see roadside shrines under a linden tree. Since the tree is believed to be favorite of the Blessed Mother, prayers offered under it are considered to have a good chance of being answered.
O the scent of the limes on the linden tree!
How it brings the love-days back to me,
How it wakens the mem’ries of long ago
Of summer months with their sunlit glow
And the hum of bees in pastures green
And the purling of streams that wound between,
And sequestered haunts we used to know
When we were young in the Long Ago.
Linden blossoms is a verse by the Czech poet Jeffrey Dolezal Hrbek, who left his homeland for America at the beginning of the 20th century. The nostalgia expressed in the poem reflects the romantic significance of the linden in Czech culture. Hrbek was appointed the first instructor for the Czech Language programme at the University of Nebraska in 1907. His stay at the university was cut short when he died at the age of 25 from typhoid that same year. Hrbek’s students raised money to posthumously publish a collection of his poems entitled, Linden Blossoms.
Linden or Lime – after all this I’m still left puzzled as to how neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit called lime.