Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 2-2
It was not long after the recording of 4 Walls of Freedom that Bob Berg met with the tragic accident that took his life, in December of ’02. “That was a very bitter thing, there’s such sadness around it,” Locke says. “A month or two after the recording we went to Seattle to play at a new club called ‘About the Music,’ which has since closed. It was supposed to be billed as the Bob Berg Quartet, but Bob was so excited about the 4 Walls project that he said we should go in as 4 Walls of Freedom. So we played a wonderful weekend in Seattle, and at that time Ed Howard had joined the group, so we did the weekend with Ed, Gary, Bob and myself. We flew back from Seattle and two or three days later Bob was killed in the car accident. So that was the last time we played together, and Bob played his last gig with 4 Walls. I don’t know if I would call it solace, but it gives me a good feeling to know that his last gig was a really good one. I remember him back in the green room, lighting a cigarette and saying, ‘yeah, cats, that was a really good hit,’ and feeling good about the gig; that he was happy with his performance and that there was a really good feeling on stage and off. On the record I used some lines from Randy Brecker’s eulogy, some words he spoke for Bob at the funeral, and I think they were really appropriate, because he was just this incredible human being and the comments Randy made about him as a man and as a player were as on the mark as you could possibly be, from someone who knew him and loved him like a brother.”
Enter Tommy Smith
With Berg’s tragic passing, a difficult choice had to be made in terms of selecting someone to fill the saxophone chair. Locke decided to enlist Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, a player with a larger reputation in Europe than in North America. “To say he was perfect would be an understatement,” explains Locke. “How he came in with a deep respect for Bob Berg, and yet with an incredibly strong identity of his own; what is amazing to me is that he gets the emotional intent of each song, regardless of whether it’s a tender ballad or a more aggressive tune, he gets my intent and puts it across on each song, for which I’m so thankful. He’s not just one of the greatest saxophone players of his generation, but maybe one of the greatest musicians of his generation.”
Bassist Ed Howard, who replaced James Genus in the bass chair, is another player for whom Locke holds great respect. “Ed is someone I’ve known for a long time,” Locke says, “and he’s someone who has an incredible strength of character as a person, and he translates that into his bass playing. If you knew him you would hear, in his bass playing, who he is as a person, he’s incredibly supportive and strong, a real strong character. He’s a lot of peoples’ favourite bassist, drummers especially. And when he took over the bass chair he was an obvious choice because of how well-loved he is by all of us for his strong and supportive bass lines, but also because he and Gary have this incredible hook-up; just the feeling of these two guys playing time, locked in together, it just works.”
With the new line-up of the band in place, and strong critical acclaim for the first record, doing a follow-up record was a no-brainer. “The new record, if I would cite a difference,” Locke explains, “has more open space, and there’s more lyrical material, although there is still a lot of energy on it.”
The title, Dear Life , was something that Locke struggled with. “I was afraid to call it Dear Life ,” says Locke, “because I felt it sounded too heart on the sleeve, too emotive; that it was too touchy-feely, but when I wrote the song, which is a very simple piece of music, the phrase “Dear Life” came into my mind. As an aside, since we’ve been on tour I get a lot of comments about that song, about how people are touched by it.