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Joe Locke/Bob Berg/James Genus/Gary Novak: 4 Walls of Freedom

Thomas Merton’s 1948 book The Seven Storey Mountain inspired Joe Locke to create a cooperative quartet and a suite. The vibraharpist named both after Merton’s celebrated description of his new world, a Trappist monastery, as “the four walls of my new freedom.” The six-part work also breathes the influence of another spiritual work, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” In great part that is because of tenor saxophonist Bob Berg, who had the technical ability, musicality and emotional drive to approach Coltrane’s levels of intensity and inventiveness. The similarity arises also out of Locke’s design of the music to encourage maximum freedom within bounds, however liberal. One of Berg’s last recordings before his accidental death in December 2002, this CD constitutes a fitting memorial. It presents him in full jazz flight away from the fusion settings that often compromised his effectiveness. This seems to me Berg’s most satisfying recorded playing since his 1997 Another Standard album.

Berg’s aggressive work tends to dominate, but the liquidity and harmonic richness of Locke’s playing is rewarding in the title suite, the intriguing “Suite di Morfeo,” and “Crescent Street,” an unrelated piece between the two suites. British flugelhorn player Gerard Presencer is impressive on “Crescent Street” and on “Morfeo,” which is inspired by the ancient god of dreams. Bassist James Genus and drummer Gary Novak are strong throughout, with Novak’s polyrhythms essential to the music.

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