Now this is what you call a band name — one elongated enough that you need an ampersand as well as a plus sign to make sure all the responsible parties get properly noticed. But what Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams translates into is not some genre-bending supergroup, even though that’s kind of what it is.
Lloyd, a saxophone titan who has embraced every form of boppish, blueish and experimental avenue jazz can travel down for more than 50 years, has regularly collaborated with rock contemporaries (including early 1970s records with Roger McGuinn, The Doors and The Beach Boys). The Marvels teamed the rhythm section of Lloyd’s working band of the past decade (bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Holland) with the more progressive minded and Americana friendly playing of guitarist Bill Frisell and pedal steel ace and mandolinist Greg Leisz.
The latter two have also rubbed shoulders with songsmith empress Williams, which led to this law firm-like amalgamation in 2017 and a debut ensemble single that recalibrated Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” as a protest song of scorched, jazzy urgency.
That leads us to “Vanished Gardens,” a more realized album than the 2016 Williams-less debut “I Long to See You.”
At 80, Lloyd remains a player of tremendous reserve. The album opening original, “Defiant,” plays out like a blues ballet with his studied, spacious tenor sax lead dancing about the chiming colors provided by Frisell and Leisz. Then Rogers and Holland enter, and the tune starts to groove, but the feeling is still open and meditative.
The tunes featuring Williams (which encompass half of “Vanished Gardens”) shift the dynamics only slightly. One is hard pressed to call her a chanteuse. Her singing remains the aural equivalent of a hangover — a blurry, boozy and bluesy voicing that informs tunes like “Dust” (first featured on her 2016 album “The Ghosts of Highway 20” with help from, what a coincidence, Frisell and Leisz).
But the direct interplay between Lloyd and Williams is stunning. The balance eerily recalls the way saxophonist Donny McCaslin weaved his playing around David Bowie’s singing on the latter’s 2016 swansong album“Blackstar.” It’s almost like you hear Lloyd’s playing even when it’s not there under Williams’ aching vocals. Then when an instrumental passage comes in, his tenor work busts a cork, exploding in knots and clusters of raw yet dignified color.
“Vanished Gardens” closes with a pair of cover tunes that showcase the record’s give-and-take sensibility. First up is the Thelonious Monk staple “Monk’s Mood” where Frisell sets up with a feathery but richly soulful guitar solo that Lloyd beautifully responds to. The closer is Jimi Hendrix’s immortal “Angel,” which Williams, Lloyd and Frisell collectively transform into a seance of broken but hopeful mercy. Such is the remarkable breadth of this entrancing and unlikely genre-busting summit.