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Joe Locke: Slander (And Other Love Songs)

Douglas Payne By

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This superb quintet session is the third, and undoubtedly best Milestone disc 39-year-old vibraphonist Joe Locke has released to date. Locke, a veteran of the Mingus Big Band and former Pepper Adams, Eddie Henderson, Dianne Reeve and Hiram Bullock sideman, has made his strongest personal statement with Slander (And Other Love Songs).

The influence of Bobby Hutcherson is overwhelming here — especially as evidenced by the strong boppish originals Locke has crafted (the exceptional "Song for Cables," "Saturn's Child," "Cecil B. DeBop," "Second Story Man" and "Slander"). But Locke is a more aggressive, and at times, more interesting "inside" player.

The vibraphonist, whose inspiration comes from such horn players as Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane and Steve Grossman, is aided by some exceptional folks here too. Pianist Billy Childs, who has walked this ground before with Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson, is muscular and consistently interesting as he alternates between acoustic and electric pianos. Bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Jackson round out the rhythm section. But it is undersung guitarist Vic Juris - appearing on five of the nine tracks here, a sort of cross between early Pat Metheny and jazzier John Scofield - who is the second star here. His commentary is really something special, providing an edgy counterpoint to the mellifluous strength of Locke's melodic vibe work.

A nice surprise is Locke's improving take on strong source material. In the past he's taken well-known works - like film themes or Henry Mancini's music - and found more than his share of sap to squeeze. But on Slander, he reworks, rethinks and reinvents Lalo Schifrin's "Mission: Impossible," refashions Joni Mitchell's "Blue" into a lovely piano/vibe duet and manages to restructure the pop hit, "Can't Help Falling In Love," transcending each into something truly personal. Nice touch.

Slander (And Other Love Songs), the tenth of Joe Locke's solo discs since his 1983 debut, is a memorable representation of what good contemporary mainstream jazz can accomplish. And, if things are right in the world, it should help Joe Locke ascend to become one of the more important figures in contemporary jazz. Recommended.

Songs:Song For Cables; Saturn's Child; Tuesday Heartbreak; Mission: Impossible; Blue; Cecil B. DeBop; Slander; Can't Help Falling In Love; Second Story Man.

Players:Joe Locke: vibes; Billy Childs: acoustic and electric piano; Vic Juris: guitar; Rufus Reid: bass; Gene Jackson: drums.

Title: Slander (And Other Love Songs) | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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