Honoring various composers, vibraphonist Joe Locke has led his group for three years in an annual gig at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club in New York. Recently Locke decided to record the output with the happy result being For The Love Of You.
Four top-flight musicians are gathered for this gigpianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Clarence Penn. Joining the four, little-known vocalist Kenny Washington - Vocals (not to be confused with the renowned drummer of the same name) is the real star here.
How they all got together is an interesting story. Locke met Washington singing in a small venue in Half Moon Bay, Northern California. He was so impressed with what he heard that he decided to collaborate with him in the future. He got the chance during Mancini week at Dizzy's, an event that honored film composer Henry Mancini. This was the beginning of what became a yearly get-together.
After the first year, the program expanded to include the music of other film-score writers, including Johnny Mandel and Ennio Morricone. In 2009, the scope was widened further, bringing in material from pop-rockers the Isley Brothers and Neil Young, along with standards and Locke originals.
Washington is heard on seven of the ten tracks. He has a smooth tenor voice with a four-octave range. At all times, he respects the lyrics. Each number, whether slow ballad or swing, he stays with the story.
In a style akin to Nat "King" Cole, he begins in a mellow mood with Mancini's "Two for the Road." Next the atmosphere warms with a bouncy version of Lane/Harburg's "Old Devil Moon."
The backup from Locke and his crew could not be better. They create a sphere for the vocals to shine while leaving ample space for all to show their solo talents. Three instrumental tracks further emphasize their collective prowess.
A centerpiece of the record is Mandel's "The Shadow of Your Smile." At the start, Penn's up-tempo drumming is effective counterpoint to Washington's leisurely pace. Soon it builds toward an explosive climax. Keezer and Locke further add sparks with torrid solos, and Washington finishes with a coda that vividly shows off his wide range.
Of the instrumentals, Morricone's "Cinema Paradiso" is a winner. Mraz's stately bowed-bass opening gives way to dreamy solos by Locke and Keezer. Mraz concludes the piece with a lovely pizzicato flourish.
Personnel: Joe Locke: vibes; Geoffrey Keezer: piano; George Mraz: bass; Clarence Penn: drums; Kenny Washington: vocals.