Some instruments are so popular that tracing a contemporary artist's roots can be complicatedand one player's influences can be diametrically opposed to those of another. Saxophonist Eric Alexander's foundation in Dexter Gordon, for example, differs substantially from David Liebman's post-Coltrane sensibility. But with less commonplace instruments like the vibraphone, it's easier to trace a clear lineage. The influence of the late Milt Jackson is so all-encompassing that one would be challenged to find a vibraphonist who hasn't been touched by him. Gary Burton, Mike Mainieri, Steve Nelson... the list goes on, though all of them have evolved their own styles and musical contexts.
Vibraphonist Joe Locke's career has been gaining steam in recent years, notably with his participation in British reed player Tim Garland's Storms/Nocturnes trio and his own 4 Walls of Freedom quartet in particular. With a busy recording and touring schedule, his absorbing blend of lyrical modernism and post bop energy resulted in a deserved win of the 2005 Down Beat Critics Poll "Rising Star" award.
Locke may be focused on evolving a distinctive voice, but he's humble enough to acknowledge Jackson's impact on his own musical path. So when he was approached by pianist Mike LeDonnea driving force behind the Milt Jackson Tribute Bandhe found an opportunity to revere his roots while demonstrating just how they have become immersed and reshaped in his own playing style. They joined forces with bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker. The quartet's date at New York's Smoke was so successful that they booked a week at Ronnie Scott's Club in London, which resulted in this live recording.
LeDonne, Cranshaw, and Roker were Jackson's working group for the last decade of his life, and the built-in chemistry and empathic understanding of the Jackson vibe (no pun intended) makes Locke's homage to "Bags" more direct yet curiously more personal. With the exception of Locke's own relaxed swinger "Big Town" and LeDonne's title track, these eight songs are culled from Jackson's repertoire, combining the elegant grooves and unhurried sense of thematic solo development that made him so relevant.
Jackson helped shape tips of the jazz tradition, including sprinkling quotes from other songs; Locke references "Willow Weep for Me" and LeDonne "Rhapsody in Blue" during the course of Jackson's lithe blues "The Prophet Speaks." The late Ray Brown's arrangement of "The Look of Love" combines the ballad's well-known melody with a gently funky transition, providing Locke and LeDonne the opportunity to build more multifaceted solos, imbuing them with a taste of blues that again leads back to Jackson. Roker and Cranshaw are ideal accompanists, delicate but never lacking weight and commitmenttruly defining "in the pocket."
A spirited tribute that realizes Jackson's true essence, Rev-elation may not be a step forward for Lockehis own self-composed projects offer stronger evidence of that. But it tells a well-known story, approached from its own perspective. You can look back, and Locke does so without ever losing sight of who he is and where he's headed.
The Prophet Speaks; Young and Foolish; The Look of Love; Rev-elation; Opus de Funk; Close Enough for Love; Big Town; Used to Be Jackson.
Joe Locke: vibes; Mike LeDonne: piano, Fender Rhodes; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Mickey Roker: drums.