In the ’50s and ’60s, jazz was shaken by a long run of premature deaths; these days, by contrast, many senior musicians are still going strong, not only playing but innovating. A prime example is the 77-year-old saxophonist Charles Lloyd.
In the ’80s, Mr. Lloyd re-emerged after a long absence, and his quartet, which recalls the solemn intensity of John Coltrane’s classic foursome of the early ’60s, became one of the leading bands in jazz. Now, on his latest recording, “I Long to See You” (Blue Note), he is featuring a new band, the Marvels, and a new sound. Through Feb. 20, he will tour North America and perform in several configurations, mostly with his new ensemble.
The Marvels has two holdovers from Mr. Lloyd’s quartet, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers. But instead of a piano, which was usually played by Jason Moran or Gerald Clayton, the new band showcases two guitarists, Bill Frisell and pedal-steel master Greg Leisz. Mr. Frisell counts the band that Mr. Lloyd led in the ’60s with drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Keith Jarrett as a formative influence on his development as a musician. And the Marvels’ sound—rustic, built along the keening lines of the guitars, and leaning toward a jazz/Americana fusion—has been Mr. Frisell’s signature since he began leading bands in the ’80s. He and Mr. Lloyd met in 2013 and played together at UCLA’s Royce Hall; Mr. Lloyd invited Mr. Leisz to perform at that show, and the Marvels took shape.
“I Long to See You” leads with Bob Dylan’s classic “Masters of War,” but rather than reproducing the searing tone of the original, Mr. Lloyd is subdued. It is as if he is treating the song more as cultural artifact than protest anthem. The second piece, Mr. Lloyd’s spry “Of Course, Of Course,” rides the sort of limber rhythms found in Ornette Coleman’s early work. It feels like a holdover from the quartet, while the Dylan work is clearly a Marvel number. The recording goes back and forth between the two extremes before settling into the new style with a run of four pieces toward the end. Willie Nelson guests on “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” and Norah Jones covers the Billy Preston classic “You Are So Beautiful.” Both vocal performances are compelling, but Ms. Jones doesn’t quite get her song out of the shadow of Joe Cocker’s early-’70s version.
Mr. Lloyd has had a lifelong affinity for guitarists; he liked the bands he heard as a boy growing up in Memphis and his first bands in the ’60s that featured guitarist Gábor Szabó. Mr. Lloyd first made his mark with “Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey” (Atlantic), a 1966 recording that was a substantial pop hit. His crossover success led to guest shots on recordings by the Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Doors. He retreated from jazz recording and performance and returned with “Fish Out of Water” (ECM), a 1989 recording that marked his full-time return to the scene. His quartet has become of one of the top groups in jazz, but this new recording shows him eager to tackle new challenges.