Veteran vibraphonist and composer Joe Locke reunites his quartet for an album that feels both old and new at the same time. The ‘old” are the two standards that bookend the album’s seven originals, either penned by Locke or band members with Locke doing all the arranging. Locke’s quartet features pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Lorin Cohen, and drummer Samvel Sarkisyan. Both Locke and Ridl also play keyboards and Cohen does some playing on the electric bass. There are also several guests on select tracks that we will denote as we go. Stylistically Makram boasts a wide spectrum of influences including soul, swing, and world music.
The core quartet greases the skids with an up-tempo rendering of the timeless Cole Porter standard, “Love for Sale” which boasts effervescent solos from the leader, Ridl, and Sarkisyan. “Raise Heaven (for Roy)” is in tribute to the late Roy Hargrove, rendered with a three-piece brass section arranged by trombonist and album co-producer, Doug Beavers. The balladic tune embraces both sides of Hargrove’s style – deep, heartfelt lyrical balladry and his love for R&B with the RH Factor. Joining Beavers on this tune and on “Elegy For Us All” are Eric C. Davis on French horn, and Jennifer Wharton on bass trombone and tuba. The latter, somber in tone with the brass on the low end, speaks to Locke’s deep concern for the growing right wind influences threatening democracy and Civil Rights in the United States.
As we proceed, we are indebted to Michael Ambrosino for the insightful liner notes. The track and album title are named after the talented Lebanese bassist Makram Aboul Hosn. This fast-paced minor blues in 5/4 takes on authentic Middle Eastern colorings with Samir Nasr Eddine on oud and Bahaa Daou on riq, a smaller Moroccan version of the tambourine as explorative journeys from Locke and Ridl are both driven and contained by Sarkisyan’s crafty work on the kit. A sixth guest, Tim Garland playing soprano saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, adds his musicianship to “Tushkin,” composed by Sarkisyan, sans Locke’s piano/vibes intro, which was inspired by the drummer’s grandfather.
True to its title “Shifting Moon” has the quartet navigating complex chord and rhythmic changes that vacillate from a heavy 4/4 to 7/4 time. Loosely based on John Coltrane’s “Satellite,” this the piece that features keyboards and electric bass as well as exemplary drumming. Calmer waters beckon for the elegiac “Song for Vic Juris,” in commemoration of the late guitarist, Ridl’s former friend and bandmate. Bassist Lorin Cohen contributes one too as his “Interwoven Hues” echoes the strains of Horace Silver and Cedar Walton in its hard bop soloing from each quartet member. Locke serves dessert, delivering a tender solo reading of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” to close this eclectic set.
Locke has packed a lot into just nine compositions in terms of tonality, rhythms, and forms. Somehow, like a well-prepared internationally inspired meal, it seems flavored and balanced just right.
– Jim Hynes
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