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Joe Locke Trio in Athens, NY, 12/3/11

Sold-out crowd enjoys good vibes

Joe Locke

“I was a crappy piano player and a crappy drummer so I figured I’d better find another instrument,” Joe Locke said during a Q&A session before his trio concert Dec. 3 at the Athens Cultural Center in Athens, N.Y.

By the end of the Q&A, every seat in the house was filled and it was standing room only. Planet Arts founder Tom Bellino said it was “the best turnout ever” and that he hoped no more people came, or the relatively small space would become uncomfortable. “How many times do you hope no more people come to a concert?” he joked.

This was Locke’s fourth appearance at Planet Arts’ “Jazz One To One” series. Locke was sure to mention how much he loves coming to the capital area. This particular night featured original takes on standards.

The music seemed to start from nothing. Locke could be heard singing as he struck the vibes. Drummer Jaimeo Brown breathed in and out deeply as his wrists twisted brushes. Jay Anderson played melodic lines up and down his bass, taking over where Locke left off. These guys had never played together as a group, but were able to feel each other out on a subliminal level.

A groove emerged first from the vibes, and evolved into Miles Davis’ “Solar.” Rather than chank along like an old school recording it breathed between repetitions of the melody and progressed organically.

During the Q&A, Locke had spoken about how he usually amplifies the vibes when he plays with a drummer, but that “Jaimeo Brown is the one drummer that can bring fire, but keep the level down.” That same fire that Locke talked about burned brightly as Brown flared up.

Locke is like a dancer. His instrument picks up on all of his movements as he raises his arms for hard slams. It picks up on the slashes that seem to shoot notes out at whatever angle he approaches them. During Locke’s solos he would play lines so long and fast that he literally jumped back as the lines finished.

Movement is important to each of these musicians. The bodies of their instruments imitate their physical bodies. Anderson stands upright and relaxed. His arms glide up and down the strings, and only his head bobs around as his bass walks, and gently shakes at the end of each legato note that elicits vibrato. Jaimeo Brown’s neck writhes as if he is in a trance. His brushes scrape the snare like he is a snake charmer raising a rattlesnake.

“Solar” never exactly ends. It mutates. Locke repeats a riff and locks in with Brown. They get so quiet that the music disappears. It seems as if people are about to applaud when suddenly the groove reemerges. The bass booms again and you can see that this may be the answer to another question presented earlier. Someone asked whether Locke’s focus was primarily on individual solos, or on a group effort. Locke said, “Well, you know what, let’s play with that tonight.” This section is part of the trio’s experiment with group improvisation, with each member contributing to the sonic content. Brown rocks mallets and he brazenly blasts his cymbals like a gong. He moves around the set so quickly and in such a way that it sounds like the roar of wind whipping through a cavernous row of tall buildings in the winter. Locke enters with a voracious appetite for new ground, and he habitually jumps and falls away from the vibraphone. It becomes apparent that his instrument is an extension of his personality, but that it is also something that he approaches almost as an entity unto itself.

Out of the gray area comes Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” The meandering Latin melody is punctuated by the swung bridge, which Brown is able to simultaneously push and pull. He accents each third triplet on the ride cymbal, which pushes so hard that the rest of the groove seems to be falling behind.

After the two raging openers, Locke cools the crowd with a solo interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” He lets chords ring out with the pulsing tremolo that only a vibraphone can make. As one chord rings, Locke bends down with his mouth close to one of the metallic bars and makes a wah-oo-wah-oo motion with his mouth, and in turn this is exactly the sound that his instrument elicits. The crowd laughs, and Locke says, “Nahhh…sorry about that,” jokingly. Locke’s jovial personality aside, there was nothing funny about the chops displayed by this band.

Originally Published