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Joe Locke: For the Love of You

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Vibraphonist Joe Locke has done many intriguing and robust mainstream jazz dates during his career, discs with plenty of swinging, decisive solos, intense pieces and inventive, intricate arrangements. But his latest release, For the Love of You, hearkens back to a mid-’90s date Locke released, Moment to Moment, where he paid tribute to the music of Henry Mancini. This CD encompasses some other territory in addition to its repertory elements, though the sterling rendition of “Two for the Road” helps re-establish Locke’s love for Mancini material.

Locke and a fine band that includes pianist Geoff Keezer, bassist George Mraz and drummer Clarence Penn team with creamy vocalist Kenny Washington on both signature jazz and pop pieces as well as R&B and rock covers. Washington is appropriately smoky and arresting on “The Shadow of Your Smile,” while he assumes a more earthy posture on “Old Devil Moon,” aided by some crackling drumming from Penn. The title track, a big Isley Brothers’ hit decades ago and still a staple on both Quiet Storm and smooth-jazz radio, is done with less fervor but plenty of strong musicianship. Neil Young’s “Birds” has very vibrant playing from Locke and Keezer, yet isn’t quite as interesting as the other numbers.

Those more accustomed to Locke’s instrumental pieces should welcome the inclusion of three other numbers. The most animated exchanges between Locke and Keezer come on the pieces “Bright Side Up” and a great reworking of Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso,” while “I Miss New York” has perhaps the disc’s most extensive and imaginative playing from the entire band. Mraz offers rich, rhythmically adept lines and playing throughout the album, and Penn proves a capable and emphatic contributor in every context.

There’s plenty of good and, occasionally, some great playing and singing on For the Love of You, and purists shouldn’t automatically bypass it. Besides being a super soloist and holding his own with one of contemporary jazz’s finest pianists, Joe Locke shows that a shift in direction doesn’t automatically equal a dip in presentation or performance.

Originally Published