Thursday, February 5, 2009

Joe Locke: Force of Four

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.5.09
Buy CD: Force of Four

In the beginning, we had Red Norvo, followed by Lionel Hampton, Margie Hyams, Terry Gibbs, Milt Jackson, Cal Tjader and Gary Burton.

They've now been joined by Joe Locke.

All are jazz vibraphone artists.

Although a relative youngster (still in his 40s), Locke has been playing the instrument for more than 30 years; his fame has risen during the most recent decade. He began playing with the “big boys” — Gillespie, for example — while still in high school; he subsequently performed with most of the great jazz groups, and has received numerous awards during his career.

And, thankfully, he has produced an extensive discography for us listeners: more than five dozen recordings, two dozen as a leader. On this, his newest album, Locke fronts his basic quartet: pianist Robert Rodriguez, bassist Ricardo Rodriguez and drummer Johnathan Blake.

Guest artists include Thomas Marriott on trumpet, and Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax.

Locke's style falls between the bop-oriented Jackson and the more avant-garde Burton; he's precise, innovative and — most importantly — swinging. He wrote three of the eight tunes here; Robert and Ricardo Rodriguez wrote one each, and the rest are covers of familiar jazz standards.

Locke's performance on the Mercer/Raksin hit “Laura” is particularly noteworthy. Locke enjoys mixing meters; he can play cool and funky with the best of them, and moves into more complex rhythms easily and fluently. (“Ricky's Tune” is done in 7/4.)

This is a smooth and totally enjoyable group, one you'd savor in either a jazz club or concert stage setting.

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