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Joe Locke and the Milt Jackson Tribute Band :: Rev-elation
by Doug Ramsey

Sharp Nine Records, 2005
Joe Locke, vibes
Mike LeDonne, piano, fender rhodes
Bob Cranshaw, bass
Mickey Roker, drums

One of the things I like about Joe Locke’s new CD, Rev-elation, is that Bob Cranshaw plays acoustic bass on it. Sonny Rollins, for reasons unclear to me, prefers the electric instrument over what I irritate some of my bassist acquaintances by calling the real bass. Cranshaw uses the electric bass when he works with Rollins. He is one of the few players who comes close to persuading me that I’m hearing the real thing when he’s playing electric. Nonetheless, as well as he works that deception with Rollins, I get full satisfaction from his sound, attack and feeling when he’s on the good old standup, wooden, contrabass. It’s more profundo. Another thing: On Locke’s album, Mike LeDonne plays the Fender-Rhodes electric piano sparingly; a good idea. For the most part, however, he plays a Steinway grand. Well, I’m not positive that it’s a Steinway, but his playing is grand. (This is called backing into a review).

As far as I know, Mickey Roker has never used electric drums. Roker, LeDonne and Cranshaw were the rhythm section who supported the sublime vibraharpist Milt Jackson for much of the last part of his life. A tighter, more attuned rhythm section is hard to imagine. Locke has no choice but to play electric vibes. That’s the only kind the Ross, Deagan and Musser companies make. Otherwise, the instrument wouldn't vibrate. It would be a marimba. Locke worships Jackson—something he has in common with all the vibraharpists who came after The Reverend, or Rev. Those were Jackson’s nicknames in addition to “Bags.”

In Rev-elation, the quartet treats an audience at Ronnie Scott’s club in London to the kind of set Jackson often played there. It is loaded with blues, a form at which Jackson excelled as Jack Nicklaus excelled at golf, although Jackson dominated his field much longer. Among other blues, Locke and his colleagues play an “Opus de Funk” that is among the most exciting versions of that imperishible Horace Silver tune. They also do Jackson’s “The Prophet Speaks” to a turn, and a sinuous new “I Got Rhythm” derivative of Locke’s called “Big Town.” In the ballad department, Locke approaches Jackson’s tenderness and depth on Johnny Mandel’s “Close Enough for Love.”

I have thought for some years that Locke was one of the most impressive post-Jackson vibes artist to emerge since Gary Burton. Unless you know the rules, it is impossible to successfully break them, as Locke comes close to doing with his Four Walls of Freedom band, pushing the modern mainstream bop tradition toward the experimental edges of jazz without losing its essence. In this album, he shows why he can do that. He knows the rules. He lives in the heart of the tradition.

published 01.10.2005© 2005 jazz news :: home page

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