JOE LOCKE & FORCE OF FOUR
A Place for Jazz, The Whisperdome
First Unitarian Society
October 24, 2008
by Randy Treece
Within a matter of three or four months, Joe Locke has catapulted his towering musical abilities upon the Capital District Region's jazz firmament. With his visits to Saratoga and Tanglewood as a featured member of the Edmar Castaneda ensemble this summer and his autumn sojourn to A Place for Jazz with his extraordinary band, Force of Four, Joe Locke has ensconced himself into the hearts, minds, and ears of this beloved jazz community. You want evidence, you say? Well, for one, he had the audience in the palm of his hand when he shared with them that the venue and audience "come well recommended." Other demonstrations of a reciprocal respect and admiration for this artist are simply the near-capacity audience, one of the largest ever for a show at the Whisper Dome, and after his performance, all of his CDs were sold and a long procession wrapped around the Dome awaiting his autograph, which he readily obliged every seeking soul.
This vibraphonist should not be a stranger to any serious jazz collector. He has been a transcendent leader on approximately 25 CDs, added his talents as a side man on approximately 60 more recordings, and garnered a staggering number of accolades, which include Downbeat Magazine Critic's Poll, Brazil's International Jazz Poll, and he was honored as Mallet Player of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association in 2006. Some critics have unabashedly opined that he is the heir apparent to the legendary Milt Jackson, and when you listen closely to his playing it is easy to recognize that signature sound and a matchless musical kinship between the legend and the new guard.
A vibraphone,ot to be confused with the marimba, is played with mallets on aluminum bars and driven by a motor and pedal that dampens and opens the sound. The consistent sound that exhales from the vibraphone is uniquely mellifluous, even when dissonant chords are struck. In the hands of a master, a vibraphone, even when struck with blunt force, remains buoyant and pleasantly sonorous. Locke is that master musician who imbibes both traditional and modernity for an inimitable and advanced music palette. His music is meaningful and adventurous. He plays with four mallets which mimics most closely the chordal range of a piano. His style is elegant, effortless, and energetic. He is quite demonstrative when the mood grooves him. Watching him speedily traverse the face of his instrument as the music takes hold of his being is like watching a graceful gazelle gallop, leap, and scamper ever so easily across the magnificent Serengeti.
Adding to his immense musical talent is his consummate and comfortable chatter, establishing an artistic rapprochement with an eager audience. It is a reward when the artist provides a gateway to the creative process by providing some insights into the mystery of the song, or reveals the muse, or sets the stage for its delivery. In this respect, Locke is an engaging story teller and enhanced each song with an engaging preface. These forwards set the theme that ignites then steers the listener's imagination throughout the rendering of the song.
Locke was accompanied by a trio of exceptional musicians. Robert Rodriguez, on piano, who hails from Miami and New York, is very much Locke's equal in his compositional and artistic chops. Ricardo Rodriquez, no relations nor shared national origin with Robert, is a reserved yet competent bassist whose bass lines were sturdy and fluent. Rodney Green proved himself to be a master time keeper and, when called upon, generated a torrent of rhythms and beats. As integral parts to the whole, everyone contributed mightily and complemented this excellent ensemble.
Most of the evening's tunes were culled from the ensemble's recent release, "Force of Four," which has garnered a four star review from Downbeat. The set started with a bang with the Quartet's rendition of Sonny Rollin's 1953 classic, "No Moe." Their rendition shifted between a swing meter to a fusion beat to something quite modern. The modish sound was magnified by Robert Rodriquez's intricate solo on the electric piano. Everyone got an opportunity to stretch out on this piece and show their musical wares. We were next regaled by a Locke composition, "Rumination." Though slow in tempo it inexplicably eludes the description of being a ballad because of its many nuances and variations. The song has phenomenal harmonics, which build into a cascade of tones and textures. Locke seemed to have enjoyed himself on this selection.
"Like Joe" was written by Robert Rodriquez as a tribute to the late and superb saxophonist, Joe Henderson. This composition is replete with clever musical motifs and striking chords. You can even detect a sly nod to Coltrane. At times the song assumed a phonetic pace, espousing some Latin flair, and there were exciting virtuoso exchanges between Locke and Rodriquez and Locke and Rodney Green. This was certainly a crowd pleaser.
Before we heard our next selection, Locke told a precious story about Little Jimmy Scott. To make this short, Locke heard a voice on a Lionel Hampton recording that he assumed was a woman until he was informed that it was Scott. Many years later, he was invited by Scott to play on a recording of the same song, "Everybody is Somebody's Fool." Reading a review wherein Scott?s voice and delivery were described as a "sword of whispers," Locke used that description for his tribute to the spirit and talent of this great artist. "Sword of Whispers" is a beautiful song with a poignant refrain, capturing Scott's artistry and vulnerability. Locke's introduction was beautiful and poetic. The song possessed gorgeous harmonies and sensational melody, both of which had the audience enthralled. Someday a lyricist will pen words to this melody - wouldn't that be the ultimate homage to the inimitable Little Jimmy Scott.
We were next treated to another Robert Rodriquez composition, "Lakeela," which has a funky groove, something of a hybrid between Latin and New Orleans grooves, so prominently provided by Rodney Green and Ricardo Rodriquez. In fact they vigorously stirred up the groove, to such a point that Locke could not contain himself as he pranced around the vibe, almost akin to a prize fighter working out. Everyone's solo garnered huge applause. The romantic song written by David Raksin and Johnny Mercer, "Laura," was next on our listening menu. What an enticing and delicious interpretation, with its superlative chordal changes, soothing voicing, and dynamic interplay. The Quartet was just marvelous on this selection. Locke poured his heart and soul into this song and Robert Rodriquez delivered an intense solo, while Green sprinkled the background with excellent cymbal work.
Next, we were presented with another Locke original, "Available in Blue." A poignant and contemplative musical novella to a women shopping in a department store. The song teemed with emotion, exhibiting dramatic crescendos and decrescendos, varied tempo, and impeccable refinement. "K Man Crew" rippled with attitude. Particularly interesting was the novelty of hearing Ricardo Rodriquez's bass lines and Locke in perfect sync. Everyone delivered formidable solos on this number. The encore was "Caravan" which featured Rodney Green and he lived up to the billing; a great way to end the show.
Because of this memorable concert, the Joe Locke Quartet has earned itself a legion of new fans.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz "and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany.