In a career spanning nearly four decades, vibraphonist Joe Locke conquered a high-ranking place among the most versatile mallet men in jazz. On his latest album, Subtle Disguise, he is edgier than ever, presenting two covers and seven original compositions, which are elevated to a superior dimension by the presence of exceptional colorists such as saxophonist David Binney and guitarists Adam Rogers and Raul Midón.
The eloquent saxman makes use of his complex phrasing to inundate "Red Cloud" with energy. The tune, named after the Oglala Sioux leader, bounces around with Samvel Sarkisyan's dynamic drumming and an anchorable ostinato shared by pianist Jim Ridl and the bandleader, who improvises with sophisticated swoops of melody and rhythmic sense.
Midón, equally efficient on vocals and guitar, is featured on both cover songs, Bob Dylan's "Who Killed Davey Moore?" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Motherless Child". While the former - a compound of funk, jazz, and R&B - is shaken by Lorin Cohen's slick bass conduction and vibrant solos from Locke, Ridl on Fender Rhodes, and Midón on acoustic guitar; the latter features Rogers improvising with bluesy feeling in accordance to the tune's gospel-blues essence. This flexible guitarist has the spotlight again on the title track, a triple rhythmic patterned song derived from an old Miles Davis' original, where he interacts with Locke by running phrases in parallel and slightly shifted in tempo, and eventually fascinates through a solo by way of final theme.
The sweet-tempered "Make Me Feel Like It's Raining" is devoted to the late master vibist Bobby Hutcherson, and has its vocal version on "A Little More Each Day", which features Locke on piano and Russian-born singer Alina Engibaryan in a Stevie Wonder-esque style.
There is also a couple of jazz churners well worthy of mention: "Rogues of America", whose obvious political connotations find expression in a sparkling rhythm that underpins effusive solos - including Binney, who starts by dancing neurotically on top of a percussion-only tapestry; and "Blondie Roundabout", a crossover jazz number that borrows part of its intensity from the rock genre.
Locke's lavishly textured compositions, often associated with imaginative post-bop trajectories, get to the top whenever its round edges are bent by contrasting stimuli. This is how the fiery lineup of special guests on this album brings extra flavor to the vibraphonist's sweeping contemporary technique.