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Stefon Harris & Joe Locke: Vibes Away!

Doug Collette By

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Within the realm of modern jazz, the vibraphone has long enticed unusually imaginative musicians to explore the possibilities of the instrument. Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton have essentially reinvented the vibes for successive generations, while Warren Wolf and Yuhan Su, among others, continue to reconfigure its appeal to entice contemporary audiences. Respective studio works of Stefon Harris and Joe Locke demonstrate how each may also be rightfully numbered among the modern visionaries of the vibes, the records also standing as studies in contrast of how flexible the instrument can be, in the right hands, as a means of expanding its own boundaries as well as jazz music itself.

Stefon Harris
Sonic Creed
Motema Music
2018

Over the years, Stefon Harris has learned how to use vocals to expand the range of textures on his records and, aided and abetted here by Jean Baylor on two tracks ("Let's Take A Trip to the Sky" and homage to the icon of his instrument the late Bobby Hutcherson, "Now"), he again brings to bear the solidity of those lessons. Sonic Creed is his first record in nearly a decade and it captures the unity of his band Blackout even as its variegated mix of instruments becomes enriched by Pedrito Martinez' percussion and the contributions of guitarist Mike Moreno. Meanwhile, the leader's own playing is as dense and through-provoking as the thought processes behind this work and his other educational and entrepreneurial endeavors. Stefon Harris refuses to live or create in a vacuum, so this album compels listening in that very context, rendering its impact all that much deeper.

Joe Locke
Subtle Disguise
Origin Records
2018

The ethereal sound Joe Locke's coaxes from his vibes is markedly different than the earthy tones his counterpart elicits from the instrument, so it might stand to reason his sound would lend itself equally well to the use of singers. Unfortunately, that's not the case on Subtle Disguise as the vocalists only serve to disrupt intoxicating mood he conjures with his mallets for the better part of the record. On Bob Dylan's "Who Killed Davey Moore?" as well as "Motherless Children" and "A Little More Each Day," Raul Midon and Alina Engibaryan's voices don't become fully integrated with the otherwise absorbing instrumental tracks. Ultimately, the best approach to take with this record is to reprogram the sequence of cuts, thereby allowing Locke, with his other accompanists (including guitarist Adam Rogers and saxophonist David Binney), to fully and deeply weave a spell of which he proves fully capable elsewhere on the other six cuts.

Tracks and Personnel

Sonic Creed

Tracks: Dat Dere; Chasin' Kendall; Let's Take a Trip to the Sky; The Cape Verdean Blues; Go; Song of Samson; Throw It Away; Now; Gone Too Soon.

Personnel: Personnel: Stefon Harris: vibraphone & marimba, James Francies: piano, keyboards; Casey Benjamin: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocoder; Mike Moreno: guitar; Regina Carter: violin; Joseph Doubleday: marimba; Daniel Frankhuizen: cello; Pedrito Martinez: percussion; Felix Peikli: clarinet, bass clarinet; Elena Pinderhughes: flute; Joshua Crumbly: bass; Terreon Gully: drums; Jean Baylor: vocals;

Subtle Disguise

Tracks: Red Cloud; Who Killed Davey Moore?; Subtle Disguise; Make Me Feel Like It's Raining Rogues of America; Motherless Children; Safe and Sound (At the Edge of the Milky Way); Blondie Roundabout; A Little More Each Day.

Personnel: Joe Locke (compositions, vibes, piano;Jim Ridl: piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers; Adam Rogers: guitar; David Binney: alto saxophone; Lorin Cohen: electric & acoustic bass; Samvel Sarkisyan: drums; Raul Midon: voice; Alina Engibaryan: voice.
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