New York, New York
January 26, 2010
Columbus Circle and Central Park South were the backdrop for Joe Locke and his band (Geoffrey Keezer: piano; George Mraz: bass; Clarence Penn: drums; Kenny Washington, vocals) as they began their six-day residence at Dizzy's Club in New York City, coming not long after the release of the vibraphonist's For The Love Of You (Koch, 2009).
After a brief introduction, the band kicked off with "That Old Devil Moon," beginning with Washington's straightforward vocals. Locke followed with an accomplished note-filled solo that drew a very positive reaction from the audience. Keezer opted to go in a different direction, hitting his piano's keys in a more subtle manner as if to contrast with Locke's style.
They continued with a cover of the Isley Brothers' "For The Love of You," which played like an R&B tune informed by the musicians' jazz tendencies. Led by Washington's soulful treatment, the tune had almost no improvised moments or solos, except for a short Locke coda at the end.
The evening's first original was Locke's gentle ballad "Verrazzano Moon," a song written in memory of late tenor saxophonist Bob Berg (1951-2002). Starting with a short piano solo, the tune felt like a prayer and a send-off to a friend gone too soon. Locke's solo had a blues feel, with the rest of the band providing a backdrop of subtle fills in between the vibraphonist's phrases. Next was an instrumental up-tempo blues that for the first time featured individual statements by all the players. The highlight was Mraz, who took advantage of the melody's simplicity to insert clever notes between the harmonic changes.
"Neil Young is one of the greatest songwriters of our time," Locke said as he introduced yet another track from the new album, a moving version of Young's "Birds," which Washington immediately took ownership of with his subtle vocal treatment. During his solo, Locke cited "As Time Goes By," the classic standard from Casablanca certainly reflecting on Young's words on love won and lost and the passage of time.
The set closed with a the very up-tempo "The King," the sole tune played on the present occasion that was not included on For The Love of You. Opening with a Washington-Locke duet (with wordless vocals), it was also the sole chance that the audience had to hear the vocalist do some free improvisation. He took full advantage of the opportunity, at first singing with Locke and then going on his own, fully exploring his range and his masterful technique.
The band has great chemistry, as they have been performing together for a number of years in this very venue. Individually, each musician is in top form; collectively, it's apparent they enjoy working together. And once again, Joe Locke proved why he is considered one of the greatest living jazz vibists.