Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 2-2
Locke’s next project was to turn into a career-defining move for him creatively, critically and as a means to stretch himself as a player and writer. “I was talking with John Priestley after we did the two Storytelling records,” explains Locke. “I remember we were doing a concert in England with Storms/Nocturnes and on a break we were chatting and he said, ‘what would you like to do for your next project?’ I said that I’d just finished reading The Seven Storey Mountain , the autobiography of Thomas Merton the Catholic Monk, and that there was a quote that really had an impact on me, ‘the four walls of my new freedom,’ and I had started to write a suite called ‘4 Walls of Freedom,’ that I’d like to do.”
Locke describes the premise best in his liner notes to the record: “It was the truth behind this paradox which inspired the suite, a truth which resonates for me on many levels. As I’ve grown older, I’ve actually learned that situations and events which seem to impose limitations can actually teach some liberating lessons, that the limitations themselves can be the harbingers of new possibilities. In musical terms the four walls of freedom are represented by melody, rhythm, harmony and form. Although we’re adhering in a disciplined way to the dictates of the suite’s structure, the members of the quartet are still completely free within that structure, and by a process of give and take, can create something new and beautiful, not in spite of the limitations, but because of them. The title itself suggested that 4 Walls of Freedom be a quartet project, each player contributing equally to the construction of this sonic ‘room.’ Furthermore, it was an essential aspect of the quartet’s make-up that the vibes function as the solo chordal instrument. As a vibraphonist normally accustomed to playing with pianists, the responsibility for all of the harmony initially seemed daunting, but ultimately yielded great creative freedom. It’s all a matter of perception. I’m limited only by my imagination. In that process, I feel a strong connection between Merton’s sentiment and my own personal quest.”
Locke not only envisioned the instrumental line-up for 4 Walls of Freedom, but had a specific saxophonist in mind. “In the process of writing the suite,” Locke says, “I heard a saxophone in my head, and I realized the saxophonist was Bob Berg, so I called Bob and asked if he’d be interested in doing the suite, that I had a couple of movements done and it just hit me that I was writing it for him. He asked to take a look at the music, so we got together and he liked it, so then I was able to finish the suite knowing it would be for him.
“Gary Novak is someone who I’d admired from a distance for a long time,” continues Locke. “He was someone who I was nervous about meeting because he’s so great, he’s just that good. When Bob and I were talking about drummers for the 4 Walls project his name didn’t even come up because we just assumed he was still with Alanis Morissette, as he had been for the past four or five years. Then, one day, I got a call from Bob who said, ‘I’m on the other line with Gary Novak, and he just quit Alanis Morissette.’ So I said, ‘Bob, you know what they next question is, don’t you? Ask him if he’s available.’ So he did, and Gary said he’d love to do it.
“Gary’s a guy who has a deep respect for the jazz tradition,” Locke continues, “but is also someone who really works and lives in the rock world. So he’s somebody who understands contemporary music. He knows how to play a backbeat and feel great. He can put a rock sensibility into something, but he’s also somebody who grew up listening to all the great jazz drummers, and to the Count Basie Bands. His father is Larry Novak, the great Chicago pianist, and Gary once said to me that he learned from his dad most importantly not what to play but rather what not to play. He taught him what the great older cats don’t want to hear behind them.
“James Genus is somebody who is just the first call by all of us in New York and around the world for that matter,” concludes Locke, “he’s just a great bassist and a wonderful guy. We had all worked with him many times and were really comfortable with him, and I knew that he’d fit the concept of 4 Walls of Freedom, it just worked out so wonderfully.”