“I was a crappy piano player and a crappy drummer, so I figured I better find another instrument,” Joe Locke said during a Q&A session before his trio concert Saturday night at the Athens Cultural Center.
This was Locke’s fourth appearance at Planet Arts’ “Jazz One to One” series. This particular night featured original takes on standards. The music seemed to start from nothing. You could hear Locke 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’s lead 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 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.
Locke was like a dancer. His instrument picked up on all his movements as he raised his arms for hard slams. His strokes were like slashes that shot notes out at angles. During his solos, he played lines so long and fast that he literally jumped back as the lines finished. Movement was important to each of these musicians. The bodies of their instruments imitated their physical bodies. Anderson stood upright and relaxed. His arms glided up and down the strings, and only his head bobbed around while his bass walked, gently shaking at the end of each legato note that elicited vibrato. Brown’s neck writhed as if he was in a trance. His brushes scraped the snare like a rattle snake.
“Solar” never exactly ended. It mutated. Locke repeated a riff and locked in with Brown. They got so quiet that the music disappeared. People were about to clap when suddenly the groove reemerged. The bass boomed again and seemed to answer another question presented earlier. When asked whether the band’s focus was primarily on individual solos or on group effort, Locke said, “Well, you know what, let’s play with that tonight.” Pushing the effort forward, Brown brazenly blasted his cymbals like gongs. He moved around the set in such a way that it sounded like the roar of wind whipping through a cavernous row of tall buildings in the winter.
Later, Locke cooled the crowd with a solo interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” He let chords ring out with the pulsing tremolo that only a vibraphone can make. As one chord rang, he bent down with his mouth close to one of the metallic bars and made a wah-oo-wah-oo motion with his mouth. His instrument echoed the sound. Whe the crowd laughed, Locke went, “Nahhh . . . sorry about that.” This was just another example of Locke’s jovial personality shining through his music.