“A music documentary that raises the bar for the genre.”
Arrows Into Infinity, a film by Dorothy Darr and Jeffery Morse, is a striking documentary portrait of Charles Lloyd. It chronicles the arc of an improviser’s still-unfolding life, moving through time with memories, archive footage and music, lots of music.
Lloyd’s story is a special one, a tale of musical discoveries and popular successes, of retreat into the wilderness and exultant return. Charles’s odyssey, moreover, has intersected with important moments in jazz history. He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and had early contact both to masters of an increasingly sophisticated jazz tradition – the Ellington and Basie bands were frequent visitors – and the raw expression of the blues. Booker Little was a childhood friend, Phineas Newborn a mentor. In his teens Lloyd hit the road with Howlin’ Wolf.
On the West Coast, he befriended Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins in a period when blueprints for musical freedom were redrawn. Replacing Eric Dolphy in Chico Hamilton’s group, he rapidly gained a reputation as an exceptional saxophonist and a composer of strikingly original melodies. His own groups drew together some of the most exciting players of the day, and his late 60s quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette made an impact at many levels, playing opposite Hendrix and Janis Joplin at the Fillmore Auditorium, touring Europe’s festivals to great acclaim, making a now-legendary foray into the Soviet Union, and selling a million copies of their Forest Flower album, a massive FM radio hit. At the peak of his popularity, disillusioned with the implications of “success”, Charles Lloyd suddenly retreated from the limelight, preferring to play his saxophones and flutes in the mountain forests of Big Sur.
Although he occasionally played on the college circuit in the 1980s, accompanying writers and poets, sightings of him in jazz contexts were rare for two decades. A tentative return to public service was made in the company of pianist Michel Petrucciani. But it was the 1989 ECM recording Fish Out Of Water, with Bobo Stenson, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen which signalled a new beginning. Since then Lloyd has led a succession of outstanding bands including the recent quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland and the Sangam trio with Harland and Zakir Hussain. These musicians contribute their thoughts about Charles Lloyd’s work to this film – as do Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Robbie Robertson, Jack DeJohnette, Don Was, John Densmore, Jim Keltner, Geri Allen, Larry Grenadier, Alicia Hall Moran, Stanley Crouch, Manfred Eicher, Michael Cuscuna, Arthur Monroe and Ayuko Babu.
Archive musical performances in Arrows Into Infinity include Charles Lloyd with the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in 1964 and the classic Lloyd Quartet with Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee (and subsequently Ron McClure) filmed at shows from 1966-1968. DeJohnette is also seen and heard in duo with Charles. Drums and drummers have been crucial in Lloyd’s music and there is live and studio footage of Lloyd with Billy Higgins, and the Sangam trio with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland. Most of Charles’ latter-day bands are featured. We see duets with Michel Petrucciani, the quintet with John Abercrombie, Geri Allen, Larry Grenadier and Billy Hart, the New Quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland (augmented at one point by singer Alicia Hall Moran) and more. As Mike Figgis, film director, has observed: “Arrows gives a rare insight into the life of one of contemporary music’s giants. The film finds a satisfying balance between documentary and exquisite live performance. There were times when I felt like clapping.”
Painter and visual artist Dorothy Darr has exhibited her work and won awards, and is in private collections around the world. She has co-produced several of Charles Lloyd’s ECM recordings and contributed artwork to all of them. Her three earlier documentary films – Memphis Is In Egypt (1996), Home (2004) and Ben Ingram vs the State of Mississippi (2009) – are also related to Lloyd’s life and work.
Producer and editor Jeffery Morse is the founder of Deepfield, Inc, a multimedia company which designs, produces and implements a variety of media from websites to videos and interactive multimedia. He was awards for his work including the John Muir Gold Award at the Yosemite International Film Festival and the Seven Summits Award at the Mountain Film Festival.
Arrows Into Infinity is available in DVD and Blu-ray formats. Running time 113 minutes. Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian.