Joe Locke Force of Four

Club BluJazz, Chicago, IL
Friday June 4, 2010

Joe Locke
Joe Locke

Photos by Brad Walseth, Copyright 2010

Club BluJazz is located at 1540 W. North Ave., just a block off of I-90/94, with plenty of street parking available. The room is comfortable - with great sightlines, the staff friendly, and there are light food offerings available. In addition, owners Greg Pasenko and Diane Delin have gone the extra distance to bring world class jazz talent to town, most recently - one of the world's finest jazz vibraphonists - Joe Locke - and his stellar Force of Four combo.

With powerhouse players Robert Rodriguez on piano, Ricardo Rodriguez (not related) on bass and drummer Terreon "Tank" Gully joining Locke - this is one band that truly lives up to its name. Locke is a sight to behold, dancing, jumping around, singing along, with four mallets swinging hard and a plethora of facial expressions. But Locke is no mere showman - the rampaging torrent of notes he produces are melodically and rhythmically virtuostic, with nary a sniff of cliche in the mix.

The band started off charging hard on the Robert Rodriguez-penned "Like Joe" (Henderson that is) from their 2008 self-titled release. The perfect complement to Locke, this pianist is one of the brightest young lights on the keyboard, and one that I am convinced we will be hearing much more about as time goes on. Bassist Ricardo Rodriguez has been working with people like David Binney and Donny McCaslin in NYC, and it is clear that the education he is receiving playing with those heavy cats is contributing to his solid work. Although, he plays with a maturity well beyond his years, the young man clearly exhibits the joy he gets from playing this exciting material. Meanwhile, the much-in-demand Gully would have been forgiven had he shown the effects of jet lag after flying in from Japan to Atlanta to Chicago to make this gig. Professional that he is, the young drum star laid down the beats with energy all night long.

After the explosion of the first number, Locke and company slowed it down on a new number from a suite they are working on. This highly satisfying 6/8 piece was called "Love is a Pendulum," and although it was slower, it still featured seemingly impossible runs by the vibe master, before building to a wonderful climax.

Sonny Rollins' "No Moe" (also from their album) is based on the rhythm changes from Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." Locke explained that he wanted this arrangement to sound like "Sonny meets the Yellowjackets," and that description was not far off. Locke's mallets were a blur on this number.

A solo interlude followed, showcasing Locke's feathery touch and mesemerizing effects, and showing another side of this talented artist. Another piece from the new suite followed - "Love is the Tide" - uptempo with udualting rhythms, a great piano solo and high-powered drumming. This set - perhaps the best I've seen all year, ended to tumultuous applause that went on for minutes after the band descended from the stage.

The second set opened with another exceptional Locke solo. This world class musician is simply outstanding. The band joined in on a great take on "My One and Only Love." The pace then quickend and the intesity rose, with engaging countermelodies created between Locke and pianist Rodriguez. An "outside" section suddenly morphed unexpectedly into "Caravan" - much to the delight of the crowd. This version of the oft-played song was outrageously good - with all players contributing to the delirious mayhem. These players truly gave their all in entertaining the appreciative crowd with their musical acrobatics.

Kudos to Locke and his talented band for their excellent sets, and credit must be given to Greg and Diane at Club BluJazz. Chicagoans really need to support this exceptional jazz club in its efforts to bring world class jazz talent like Joe Locke to our city.

Denny Zeitlin with Buster Williams and Matt Williams is appearing at Club BluJazz this weekend. Please check this trio and the club out>

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