2005 Ballard Jazz Festival, Seattle, WA
Next up was a bossa nova. The title was never mentioned, but it sounded so familiar, something by Jobim? Deardorf soloed first for a nice change of pace. Some groups working in the time-honored "head-solos-head form display a disconcerting habit of having the instrumentalists always solo in the same order, making for a predictable "oh, here comes the tenor solo... feeling. Bernstein's guitar solo again demonstrated his graceful blend of chordal and single note approaches, with a touch of Wes Montgomery's patented octave sound. Alexander really plumbed the depths of the tenor's range in his solo here, dipping into baritone territory on occasion to telling effect. Jorgensen's succinct solo was multicolored and polyrhythmic.
Some steamin' hard bop worthy of the Jazz Messengers or Hank Mobley's classic Blue Notes concluded the set with a pedal-to-the-metal take on "End of a Love Affair. Alexander has a knackas did Mobleyfor playing complex, snaking lines at punishing tempos and sounding completely relaxed at the same time. This guy can move! He was positively incendiary at points here, and the tenor-drums "conversations were highlights, as was the rhythmically assured tenor interlude without accompaniment. Bernstein also soloed in fine style. The ensemble capper with drum breaks was enlivened by some canny tenor comments akin to witty asides in a chat with a friend. It's too bad all love affairs don't end on such a positive, uplifting note.
This wasn't retro-bop or the well-meaning yet often pallid neo-bop so prevalent in the 1990s, but music that unfolds the traditions like origami without ignoring their roots.
When the stage was set for the Joe Locke Quartet, Wilke thanked the Festival's Artistic Directors John Bishop and Matt Jorgensen, then introduced Jorgensen, who offered his thanks to the Ballard Chamber of Commerce and the lengthy list of sponsors. This is truly a grass roots festivalsupported by and supporting the communityand obviously a labor of love on the part of its organizers.
Already well-known in Japan, this quartetthe latest in a multitude of groups and projects masterminded by Lockemade its North American debut at this concert. Another first was the fact that the group was performing all new music. These guys must thrive on challenges, as the concert set was also recorded for future CD release. In fact, Locke cut the opening selection short after three bars, saying, "This is a live recording tonight, so we're going to make sure we get it 100% right. His announcement was accompanied by a loungey snippet of "Tea for Two from Geoff Keezer at the piano.
When "Van Gogh by Numbers the title selection from Locke's recent duo CD on Wire Walker with fellow idiophone player Christos Rafalidesgot rolling it indisputably rolled, and rocked a bit as well. It's an intricate, very up-tempo composition. Keezer began at the acoustic piano, then switched to the electronic keys, soloing in probing fashion. Bassist Mike Pope alternated between six-string electric and contrabass throughout the evening; his propulsive six-string work helped this Vincent-inspired piece fly in a starry night.
A composition by Keezer titled "Tulipa (spelling only my guess) was next. Drummer Terreon Gully really shined on this piece, which is replete with shifts in rhythm, including a recurring portion with a feeling that evokes the "one-drop in Reggae. Locke is a joy to watch as well as to hear. An extremely animated performer, he's in constant motion. His lean form dressed in faded jeans, a crisp white shirt open at the collar and a black sport coat, his wavy silver hair slicked back, constantly mouthing/scatting along with his serpentine lines, he appeared to be playing the instrument and the music with his whole body, mind and soul: nothing was held back.
There is also a deep spirituality evident in his music, andlike all true spiritualityit has a sense of humor. He plays with a very clean, clear, crisp sound, eschewing tremolo and sustain for the most part. If he ever sells off a set of his vibes on eBay, a fellow malleteer should snap 'em up post-haste: the motor will likely be good as new. Keezer took a fleet, fluid solo that showed why he is one of the most widely respected keyboard players of his generation.
Also very pronounced in Locke's stage presence and music is a sense of egalitarianism. Jason West's interview with him in the November 2005 edition of AAJ-Seattle expressed this most fluently, touching on his displeasure with the increasing gentrification of jazz and his lengthy association with legendary multi-instrumentalist George Braith, playing on the streets of New York City twelve hours a day. It was certainly in concord with these sentiments that the quartet's North American debut was in the Mars Hill Church Performance Hall, rather than a glitzy club with a pricey cover charge and inflated drink/dinner prices.