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Gareth Lockrane: Doing That Grooveyard Thing

Duncan Heining By

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Few musicians have developed successful careers in jazz playing just flute. You might think of Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws and Bobbi Humphrey, but only Jeremy Steig, Paul Horn and James Newton spring immediately to mind as artists who have achieved credibility with both fans and critics in their work. We can now add 36 year-old British flautist Gareth Lockrane to that brief list.

Lockrane hails from Stoke-on-Trent, in Britain's North Midlands. It's not a prepossessing kind of place. Justly famous for the quality of its ceramics—the names Wedgewood, Doulton, Spode and Minton and thirties designers like Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper, Keith Murray and Charlotte and Frederick Rhead are known the world over— the area suffered greatly from the closures of its steel works, its coal mines and other heavy industries through the seventies, eighties and nineties. Whilst it remains an important centre for pottery, Stoke and the other "Five Towns" have suffered from the both unfavorable economic winds in recent decades, as well as from the blight of sixties-style town planning. It's the kind of place that might produce, let's say, a Robbie Williams, but hardly a major new jazz talent like Gareth Lockrane.

Gareth Lockrane is what might be called an emergent talent. He's not one of those guys who shines brightly, then all too often crashes and burns. His trajectory has been quite slow but, with hindsight, he's been coming in to view for some years now. Having first heard him on saxophonist Tom Richards Orchestra's Smoke and Mirrors (Candid, 2007) and his gorgeous solo on "Liquor Bickering," the second time was with a group of young British musicians performing with drummer Jack DeJohnette at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2009. Lockrane can also be heard on guitarist Phil Robson's The Immeasurable Code (Whirlwind, 2011), sharing frontline duties with American saxophonist Mark Turner. There is something about the strength of his sound, the way it cuts through the mix, and how confident he sounds in Turner's righteous company.

All reasons enough to check Lockrane out more closely, but with his third album as a leader, The Strut (Whirlwind, 2012), just released it seems high time to spread the word. The Strut is the second album from Grooveyard, one of three current Lockrane ensembles—there's a septet and a big band as well. The first Grooveyard record, Put The Cat Out (Gailforce), came out in 2003, and in the intervening years Lockrane attended the UK's National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, where he studied for a Masters in film composition. The first question is about how he sees the differences between the new CD and its predecessor. One change seems to involve a greater sense of emotional immediacy with the The Strut.

"That could be connected to film school," he says. "Whatever influence there is is probably unconscious because, I suppose, a lot of these tunes maybe started to be written around that time at film school and I guess I've checked out a lot more music in the meantime. I think with the music on the first one, I was trying to update that whole soul jazz, organ tradition. Unashamedly so because I do love all that side of the music. I was trying to keep the core elements but trying to update it with modern melodies without turning it into a fusion band. For me, it should always sound like a good-time soul band but with all those extra things that say [guitarist] John Scofield brings in. It always feels like he's jamming a tune, however crazy and complex it is. That was the thing on the first one and on this one probably it was about stretching things harmonically beyond what.... I usually write with the organ in mind but I wanted to push things harmonically with the writing and arranging, trying out different arranging colors within that lineup. Maybe I couldn't see those possibilities ten years ago."

It was clearly important for him to take on the challenge offered by the National Film and Television School and it was a decision that emphasizes both Lockrane's ambition and his commitment to music. His studies there seem to have led to an emphasis on economy rather than brevity in his compositions. If so, then how exactly has he achieved this?

"I think the most obvious impact," he explains, "involved getting into writing minimal melodies and slowly unfolding harmonies-getting into that zone, in particular, because we were mostly doing short, narrative-based films where every note counts and where a few unnecessary musical gestures could throw the whole thing completely. The whole course is built around making short films. You're writing music for a team effort. Often, you end up trimming things down to pretty minimal writing but really trying to consider what you need to communicate with the music.


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