2005 Ballard Jazz Festival, Seattle, WA
According to Locke, the West African hilife feel of some of Pharoah Sanders' post-Coltrane playing inspired "Pharoah Joy . It is a relatively straight-ahead quartet numberat least compared to the edgy, doing Tai Chi on the edge of the abyss feeling generated by many of the other compositions heard this eveningwith Pope on acoustic. A few crunchy glitches in the sound system slightly marred the opening ensembles; let us hope that the marvels of digital technology and an engineer with big ears can repair these minor distractions so this galvanizing performance will appear on the CD. Locke's solo was busy, bustling and ballsy. It's obvious why Cecil Taylor has played extensively in duo with the vibraphonist. I can't imagine how they manage to stay out of each other's way, but I'm sure they do. Locke's adamantine clarity and blinding speed is certainly comparable to the scarily effusive Taylor. Pope's sound on the stand-up was big and round as a Chinese gong on his turn in the spotlight, with Keezer's comping providing gentle accents. The piano solo was very energetic and densely textured: rather McCoy Tyner-ish circa Sama Layuca.
Another Keezer composition"Honu, Honu ("honu is Hawaiian for turtle according to the composer)was a bit more reflective, and found Pope returning to his electric instrument. The dynamics gradually built to forte, and there was a floating, shimmering quality in the ensemble sound provided by Gully's beautifully controlled cymbals and Locke's bar-talk. A delightful vignette toward the end was a good example of just how original and innovative a player Locke is. He appeared to wet a couple of the bars on the vibraharp with his tonguesomething I'd never seen beforethen used the stick portions of the mallets on the ends of the bars, summoning up echoes of ethnic idiophones in a unique percussive way.
Locke's personable stage presence was again to the fore as he mentioned his two previous trips to Seattle, both blessed bysome might sayatypically sunny weather, and now this one, blessed by a fine festival with workshops and a premiere concert but with more "normal cool gray weather. He showed off an excellent framed black and white photograph of Milt Jackson presented to him by photographer Ron Hudson. One of Locke's recent projects is a tribute to Bags.
"Fractured by Keezer sported one of Locke's hottest solos of the night, an intense, riveting matrix of interlocking ideas that forged ahead in a whirlwind of textures. The composer also soloed in memorably multi-layered fashion, and provided delicious interjections during Pope's acoustic solo.
Locke finally removed his sport coat at this point; it's a wonder that he kept it on this long, taking into account the alacrity and power of his playing. Set up by Gully's fatback drums intro, the ravishing melody of James Taylor's "Native Son brought forth more emotive solo work from both Locke and Keezer, back on the electronic keys for this one. The group's spiritual depth was again noticeable in this deeply affecting performance; one felt the tugging emotion of Taylor's lyrics in the conversational contours and almost vocal cadence of the instrumental arrangement. Locke mentioned Taylor's evocation of the havoc that war wreaksguys coming home never to be the same againin his closing comments.
A Locke composition redolent of multihued sunsets on the Pacific at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Societya fabled California club where he often playsmade its debut at this concert. "Miramar has a beautiful melody, and is firmly in the jazz tradition of ballads that can be reflective and forceful, often simultaneously. A comparison to Bobby Hutcherson at his best might be drawn herealbeit obliquelyas Hutch has often mined similar territory in his compositions and improvisations over the years. Both Keezer and Pope utilized their acoustic instruments. Truly oceanic in its scope, "Miramar brings to mind soothingly lapping small waves kissing the shore at times, then gigantic breakers crashing in. The ebb and flow, calm and turbulence, serenity and movement of the Earth's lifeblood permeate this composition.
The quartet's set closed with "The King, another up-tempo Locke original with segments where the pace practically doubled, particularly effective for Keezer's airborne piano solo. Gully's mastery of blistering tempi was again supremely evident. He is among the most assured ensemble drummers now active, and doesn't need a solo to make his creative presence known. In fact, he took no solos per se during this set, a pleasant change from the format of seemingly obligatory drum solos on general principle found in the performances of many groups.
Artistic Directors John Bishop and Matt Jorgensen deserve kudos for this thoroughly enjoyable and wonderfully diverse concert that provided a boldface exclamation point at the conclusion of the 2005 Ballard Jazz Festival.