The vibraphone has never been an easy sell for a leading musician. Compared to piano or brasswhose attention is all but assured, it has usually remained somewhat overshadowed. Joe Locke, one of the premier vibraphonists on the scene today, has changed course on Sticks and Strings, recorded for the Palermo, Italy label, Jazz Eyes. Locke is very popular in Italy; performing there often it appears he's found a second home. Having forged his own identity in the post bop/Bobby Hutcherson, progressive/Mike Mainieri realm, this outing puts him on a collision course with Bill Frisell's country-esque Americana.
Locke receives impressive help from guitarist Jonathan Kreisbergwho released the interesting The South of Everywhere (Mel Bay, 2007)whose Scofield-influenced snaking unison comping and dexterous fretwork mark the disc from the get-go. Able rhythm support is provided by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Joe La Barbera, but the main attraction is the interaction and interplay between Locke and Kreisberg.
Nowhere is this more evident than on "Terzani, where Kreisberg's multiphonic runs and harmonic overlays with Locke's playing push the pace, and on the fleet, rapid-fire "The Rosario Material, named for Italian altoist Rosario Giuliani.
Locke moves into Americana territory on "A Word Before You Go, with it's lilting country twang. Reflective and relaxed versions of Cole Porter's "All Of You and Julius Styne's "I Fall In Love Too Easily give nod to the standards songbook. Appointment in Orvieto, one of Locke's favorite Italian haunts, flows from the outset, with Kreisberg's graceful fretwork and Locke's melodic swinging.
The proceedings conclude full circle with "Sixth Sense, where relaxed electric strumming mingles with meandering sinuous vibes. The entire CD has a very nocturnal feel, interjected with moments of cool and understated burning, although a slight homogeneity pervades. Based on his playing here, Kreisberg should garner some well-deserved acclaim.
Those new to Locke's music will probably like this outing, but may want to begin elsewhere in his discography. For those already familiar with this longstanding mallet talent, this new direction could be an eye- and ear-opener.
Personnel: Joe Locke: vibes; Jonathan Kreisberg: electric and acoustic guitars; Jay Anderson: bass; Joe La Barbera: drums.