Joe Locke says his new album, Lay Down My Heart, is intended “to provide respite for folks who work hard every day and need an opportunity to slow down and be reacquainted with that certain something which eludes most of us in the midst of the whirlwind which is modern life”. We can all do with some of that from time to time.
After Bobby Hutcherson, who performs less frequently nowadays, Locke has a plausible claim to being thought of as the leading contemporary exponent of the vibraphone. In a recent post I wrote of being impressed by his playing on Centennial, Ryan Truesdell’s album of rediscovered Gil Evans arrangements, and by his solo on “The Barbara Song” in particular, and I was sorry to miss him in London recently, when he performed with the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music. This new recording provides a clear sight of the 54-year-old Californian’s maturity and inventiveness.
It’s a quartet album, and although you probably wouldn’t be able to pick the pianist Ryan Cohan, the bassist David Finch and the drummer Jaimeo Brown out in an identity parade, that doesn’t always matter: their playing here is perfectly attuned to the leader’s conception, and sometimes, even in jazz, you don’t need to be original to sound sparklingly fresh.
The programme starts with a measured version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” that sounds like the sort of intelligently soulful jazz that might result if you could get Milt Jackson guesting with the old Ramsey Lewis Trio. But it’s the ballads that are the core of the album, particularly a lovely treatment of “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, a definition of heartbreak from the repertoire of Bonnie Raitt; a reading of Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning of the Blues” that carries only the faintest echoes of the versions Gil Evans devised for Miles Davis’s trumpet (on Miles Ahead) and George Adams’s tenor saxophone (on There Comes a Time); and the slinkiest version of “Makin’ Whoopee” since Dr John and Rickie Lee Jones gave it a whirl a few years back.
I’m going to file this one next to Hutcherson’s Happenings, a 1967 album on Blue Note with a similar quartet format, featuring Herbie Hancock, Bob Cranshaw and Joe Chambers, ready for use on Sunday mornings and in times of stress. It’s not an album to challenge the listener (although a version of Frank Foster’s “Simone” has the darker, more convoluted intensity of some of Hutcherson’s other Blue Note quartet work — on Andrew Hill’s Judgment, say, or his own Oblique). On its own terms, however, it is perfectly satisfying. And, as promised, good for whatever ails you.
* The photograph of Joe Locke was taken by Joseph Boggess and comes from the sleeve of Lay Down My Heart, which is released on the Motema label.