Certain sounds are so easy to love: the blurry whine of a muted trumpet, the beefy growl of a robust tenor saxophone, the rich, frictional cry of the cello, and the buoyant, sustained ring of a mallet hitting a key on a vibraphone.
Vibraphonist Joe Locke's profile seems to have risen on a sharp angle since Live in Seattle (Origin Records, 2006), a CD that found its way onto several critic's top ten of the year lists. Since then he has offered up Live at JazzBaltica (MaxJazz, 2006) and Sticks and Strings (Music Eyes, 2007), proving that his excellence was no one-off affair.
Force of Four finds Locke in the company of a crack quartethis vibraphone and a piano triooffering up perhaps his finest recording to date. And though the instrumental make-up is the same as that of the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), Locke and company are more about energy and forward momentum and grooves than they are about a chamber atmosphere.
"Like Joe" is a bouncy tribute to tenor titan Joe Henderson that features seamless piano/vibes interplay. It's easy to think that the two instruments could bump heads and step on each other's toes, but that's never the case on this disc. "Ruminations" has a pensive atmosphere and drifting quality, and a sublime quartet weave of sound.
"No Moe," from the pen of Sonny Rollins, is tight groove that brings in one of the album's two guests, trumpeter Thomas Marriott, playing a beautiful muted horn. "Alpha Punk" and "Blue November" feature tenor saxophonist Wayne Escofferythe former an energetic romp that brings the Yellowjackets sound to mind, the latter a relaxed dark-toned piece of introspective beauty.
Joe Locke might just be this generation's Milt Jackson. And with Force of Four he might be headed to the year's top ten lists again.
Track Listing: Like Joe; Ruminations; Ricky's Tune; No Moe; Available in Blue; Alpha Punk; Laura; Blue November.
Personnel: Joe Locke: vibes; Robert Rodriguez: piano; Johnathan Blake: drums; Ricardo Rodriguez: bass; Wayne Escoffery: tenor sax (6, 8); Thomas Marriott: trumpet (4).
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