A complex quartet album, bristling with guests, from vibist Locke who first surfaced as a leader way back in the 1990s.
Bustling, with a rugged major guest contribution from alto/soprano saxophonist Rosario Giuliani on a number of tracks including most dynamically ‘Love is the Tide’, all nine tracks are Locke compositions, drummer Terron Gully’s strong drive, the beat of Ricky Rodriguez clear and defined while Locke jostles with pianist Robert Rodriguez for harmonic supremacy in the more heated sections.
That battling energy Locke provides as a trademark strategy is obvious from the very beginning of an album dominated by a suite of five tracks with the word ‘Love’ in the title. Tough love isn’t mentioned anywhere but that could be the motto of an album.
The Love suite was inspired by a Barbara Sfraga poem Locke says in a liner note while other inspirations on the album include on the final track George Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’ becoming ‘Embrace’. Vocal input (blink and you’ll miss it) on the album, which was recorded at Avatar in Manhattan over two days of April 2014, is fleeting but comes from Theo Bleckmann mesmerisingly subtle in the polyphonic treatment on ‘Love is a Planchette’. He’s fast becoming one of the most significant male jazz singers anywhere on the global jazz scene concerning himself with texture and space as much as anything here within the body of the arrangement.
Other guests besides Bleckmann and Guiliani are saxophonist Donny McCaslin, Victor Provost on steel pans flavouring the delicately involving ‘Embrace’, and guitarist Paul Bollenback who takes the album into a different Metheny-esque realm in tandem with McCaslin on ‘For Jesse Mountain.’
The sheer strength and expertise of the quartet is a reassuring presence throughout. As for Locke he seems to be everywhere on the album, hugely muscular and expansive for the most part and at his most thoughtful on ‘Love is a Planchette’ the easy highlight of an album big on momentum and packed full of energetic explorations of modern day bop traditions.
The Joe Locke quartet, above, l-r: Ricky Rodriguez, Joe Locke, Terreon Gully and Robert Rodriguez