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Joe Locke/David Hazletine Quartet: Mutual Admiration Society

Douglas Payne By

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Consummate relational jazz seems completely outdated. Groups are thrown together in studios to record music obviously calculated to sell. To guess, special-guest announcements for jazz records that include the names Wynton Marsalis or John Medeski must get cash registers to ring.

But such back-in-the-day collaborations as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane - designed to send alternative messages to the prevailing attitudes about each — even made a certain sense. Certainly the master and master pupil interchange was challenging to consider, much less coordinate. But the musical result achieved something awesome — even if the experiment had failed (it didn't). Now we get pop-singer daughters crooning with their long-dead fathers. It sells. But is the effort to overcome the ghoulishness of the enterprise worth entertaining what is little more than a technological pairing?

An antidote to this current trend is what turns out to be an inspired pairing of the exceptional vibraphonist Joe Locke with the supple, interactive piano of David Hazeltine. Two friends long on the New York scene, Locke (who has gigged with Cecil Taylor and recorded most memorably with Eddie Henderson) and Hazeltine (who has played with Louis Hayes and Slide Hampton) debut together on Mutual Admiration Society , a marvelous tour de force of relational jazz that should do much to advance the careers of both its leaders. The title, cliché though it may be, ultimately does seem appropriate to the relationship these two share, something which is evident in the deeply fascinating passages of exploration that merit - and reward — repeated listening.

It may be unfair but not necessarily inaccurate to align this partnership with the one Bobby Hutcherson and Herbie Hancock shared on several outstanding Blue Note records in the 1960s. Locke and Hazeltine do not derive their overall sound from either Hancock or Hutcherson. But, certainly, they hint at their predecessor's individuality organized into a most pleasing combination of sound and creativity, infinite in possibilities.

Such a compelling relationship is bound to brim with surprise. And this one does. The two play a modern sort of post-modal bop (if that's possible) inspired, as they note, by the early records of Dave Pike and Bobby Hutcherson. Their rapport keeps them operating as a single unit, buffered by the most gossamer support of bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Billy Drummond. Even more impressively, Locke's difficult four-mallet delivery hints at - with melodious, deceptively simple whole tones — a fifth player in the room. The effect commands a "what's that?" or "where's it coming from?" kind of attention and lurks hauntingly in memory.

The program mixes melodic originals from Locke (mostly unexceptional but for the slightly relentless "The K Crew") and Hazeltine with a ballad ("Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year) and two very odd covers (too-well-known pop fare, "I Say A Little Prayer" and "For All We Know"). It is actually the covers that stand out most. Slowed down to a low-burn, the vibraphonist and the pianist cook all the corn out and reveal something startlingly fragile and emotionally considered here ("Prayer" in particular is a beauty). Even Hazeltine's lightly funky "Can We Talk?" - another of the set's highlights — never gets above medium tempo. But the tunes are only exquisitely conceived set pieces for the connective musical dialogues of Locke and Hazeltine.

Mutual Admiration Society reminds what a true jazz collaboration can achieve. It is an interactive pleasure that ranks as one of the year's finest, most elegant jazz statements.

Track Listing: K-Man's Crew, I Say a Little Prayer, Can We Talk?, The Haze Factor, Tears in Her Heart, Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year, Diamonds Remain, For All We Know

Personnel: Joe Locke, vibes; David Hazeltine, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; Billy Drummond, drums

Title: Mutual Admiration Society | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Sharp Nine Records

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