Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 2-2
“ There are a lot of composers who I don't consider myself worthy to be in the same room as...but one thing I do think is that my heart is connected to my pen. ”
Part 1 | Part 2
Vibraphonist Joe Locke, while present on the music scene for over twenty years, has only recently begun to carve a unique place for himself with projects including woodwind player Tim Garland’s Storms/Nocturnes Trio and his own 4 Walls of Freedom band. Part 1 of this interview examined Locke’s development as an artist, and how he got to where he is today. Part II picks up with the beginnings of the Storms/Nocturnes Trio.
Following the sole trio track, featuring Locke and pianist Geoff Keezer, on Garland’s ’00 release, Made By Walking , it was clear that this instrumental grouping, which Garland had been considering for a some time, was going to work. For Locke it was an opportunity to play with two artists he held in extremely high regard. “Tim Garland is an amazing musical spirit,” says Locke, “and he’s such a prolific writer. He has two children and is constantly busy with his teaching and composition, yet he can write a plethora of music with all these distractions. And Geoffrey Keezer is one of the greatest musicians that I have ever met in my life. His gift is just amazing, and the fact that I’ve been able to make music with these guys, done several tours with them and night after night been able to be on the same stage, and learn and grow from these two men whom I have so much respect for and who, in turn, trust me enough as a musician to take chances with night after night...it doesn’t get any better than that. It really works as a trio, and in concert it’s so much fun, because people come not knowing exactly what to expect, and they really catch three guys in the throes of it.”
With two recordings under their belt, ‘01’s Storms/Nocturnes and ’03’s Rising Tide , the group has had the opportunity and longevity to develop a style that cleverly blends mind numbing written ensemble passages with complete improvisational freedom. “There’s a lot of writing,” Locke explains, “but there’s also a lot of freedom. I think there are two factors: one is that the writing is just so good, Tim’s writing is so clear and well thought-out, and the other thing is that Geoffrey underpins the whole thing, and when I do something he is so on point that he can make a lot of what is spontaneous sound more written only because he’s such a great musician and he’s able to adjust to what Tim and I are doing as soloists. He’s dealing with all the harmony underneath us, all the chords and bass lines. In the ensemble passages there is a lot of four mallet playing going on, and then in the open blowing I’m mainly playing with two.
“One thing I love that Geoffrey does, that some people might think is a written part of the music,” continues Locke, “is that after a sax solo or bass clarinet solo or whatever, I’ll start to play and at some point in my solo we’ll both go to the high end of the instrument, and Geoffrey will do this accompaniment that sounds like a toy piano or orchestra bells, which I love. He explores the whole sonic range of the piano in Storms/Nocturnes, whereas I think a lot of pianists might play just a standard jazz accompaniment, and he doesn’t do that. At certain points he’ll take over the function that maybe the vibraphone would have and I’ll take over the piano function for a few moments. And these are really exciting things.”
While Locke is almost exclusively occupied with his 4 Walls of Freedom project these days, Storms/Nocturnes is still very much a going concern. “Right now it’s on hiatus because I’ve been busy with 4 Walls,” Locke says, “Tim is involved with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and other things and Keezer has been doing the Christian McBride band, but we will definitely continue to record and tour as a group. I’d love to do a live record with Storms/Nocturnes, and that’s one thing that’s been talked about; the other thing is doing a record with the trio and a chamber orchestra. That’s something that’s on the back burner, and hopefully we’ll be able to do it someday. There is some string quartet stuff on Rising Tide, and I’d love to see what Tim would do with a complete orchestra.”
The Beginnings of 4 Walls of Freedom