Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Joe Locke: Love is a Pendulum

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Joe Locke is on the short list of important vibraphone players post-Milt Jackson. Love Is a Pendulum is his most ambitious undertaking to date. Its nine new original compositions include a suite in five movements, based on a poem by Barbara Sfraga.

The emphasis on composition and intricate, extended ensemble form is new for Locke. Also new is the diversity of colors and voices. Locke augments his working quartet (pianist Robert Rodriguez, bassist Ricky Rodriguez and drummer Terreon Gully) with guests, all strong personalities: Donny McCaslin and Rosario Giuliani (reeds); Paul Bollenback (guitar); Victor Provost (steel pan); Theo Bleckmann (voice).

The five parts of the suite take their titles from metaphors for love in Sfraga’s poem. The title track is a tight structure with three sections that cycle like a pendulum. Sfraga and Locke share a vision of love that is often not tender. On “Love Is the Tide,” whirling motifs and fierce, piercing unisons are overwhelmed by Gully’s seething and clattering. The suite is a series of formidable forms, skillfully executed. But it sometimes sounds too technical and contrived and hard-edged for a piece about love, even tough love. The most attractive movements are those where Locke’s touch is lighter and he resists the temptation to overfill musical space. “Love Is a Planchette” has a gentle melody rendered by one of the most intriguing, evocative instrumental sounds in jazz, the wordless voice of Bleckmann. On “Love Is Letting Go,” Locke and Giuliani float and hover, outside of time.

The best pieces are not in the suite. Donny McCaslin is a slowly gathering force on “For Jesse Mountain.” “Embrace,” a variation on “Embraceable You,” is portrayed in treble. The metallic sounds are brilliant and distinctive: Provost’s sheet steel, Locke’s aluminum bars and Rodriguez’s piano strings, which are tempered steel but ring like silver.

Originally Published