Joe Locke: Versatile Vibes Master
Last year, Locke was approached by E1 music about making a recording. He had just finished doing a week with Washington and the bandGeorge Mraz, Clarence Penn and Keezerat Dizzy's. "I said I did have a project I'd love to do and it was this particular project." E1 jumped at the chance to record the project.
From left: Geoffrey Keezer, Kenny Washington, George Mraz
Joe Locke, Clarence Penn
"It came out of doing the Mancini music and the film music. So you'll see on the record we have a Mancini tune, a Mandel tune, a Morricone tune," Locke says. "Then we didn't have to stick with that concept. So I added some original music of my owna vocal tune, which I wrote words and music to, that's a tribute to the late saxophonist Bob Berg, 'Verrazano Moon.' I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do the vocal version of that tune with Kenny. We do a tune by the Isley Brothers, the title tune, 'For the Love of You.' The reason that I did that is because Kenny has a real understanding of not just the jazz lexicon, but R&B too. He has, in his musical DNA, Donnie Hathaway, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye. It's part of who he is musically. So I wanted that to be expressed. There's even a Neil Young tune that I've always wanted to do just because it's a beautiful ballad ("Birds"). So it was really fun to put this project together."
The rhythm section throughout is stellar, with Mraz and Penn providing all the right feels, and Keezer expertly coloring every nuance and providing his own bright, inventive solos. The band gets to stretch out on Locke's instrumental, "Bright Side Up," and it's outstanding. Washington's voice is supple enough for jazz and indeed has a strong R&B feel. It's a recording that will bring his name into more conversations, and justifiably so. The fact that he worked with this band, not just a singer brought into a studio, shows in the cohesiveness of the music.
"It's not all swinging. The Isley Brothers and Neil Young stuff is more groove-oriented. But the focus is on swinging and pretty ballads," says Locke, an upbeat, effervescent guy with an easy manner and a generous soul. "Although the cats in the band bring such a personal thing to the music. If you listen to 'Old Devil Moon,' part of it very in-the-pocket swinging. It's a tune that has been done many times, but there's an energy in the track, with the arrangement, the vibes and piano and fourths, that has the vibe of a Bobby Hutcherson and McCoy Tyner kind of '60s energy. Yeah, the focus is on swinging, but it there is some modal playing going on and a modern approach.
"On some of the tunes the whole thing is to play pretty. Bring some beautiful music to the table and play pretty. I think there's always room for that... This is a more traditional project for me, but I really dig it and I feel happy to have had the opportunity to do it. It's nice to be able to express all the different aspects of one's personality. I love to write original music, but I love the Great American Songbook. I love to play unusual forms and contemporary music, but I love to swing out too. I'm pretty lucky. I've had the opportunity to do a lot of different stuff."
The group has since done another week at Dizzy's and has a few others dates on the horizon. For Locke and Keezer it marks the continuation of a musical relationship that goes back about 18 years. "We've had an ongoing musical friendship for a while now. We've played in so many contexts... He's one of my absolute favorite musicians, period."
The two play duet gigs on occasion, have co-led quartets and, with saxophonist Tim Garland, comprise Storms/Nocturnes, an adventurous trio. In over 30 years on the scene as a jazz musician, Locke has played with people like Cecil Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Pepper Adams, Mongo Santamaria, Grover Washington Jr., Kenny Barron, Dianne Reeves, Rod Stewart, Eddie Henderson and the Mingus Big Band, among many others. Pretty good for a guy who started out on drums and piano at about the age of eight, before wood-shedding on the vibes.
"The vibraphone was right in between the two instruments and satisfied both urges, the rhythmic urge and the melodic urge. I found my voice. I found the vibraphone when I was 13. There was no looking back," he says. His high school had no music program, but that didn't stop Locke.