Vibist Joe Locke and keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer have been working together for some time as the New Sound Quartet, which has released two discs in Japan. But while that group - clearly the precursor to this quartet - focused out of necessity on a primarily standards-based repertoire, Live in Seattle provides a far better and more accurate representation of its potential. Featuring three songs each by Locke and Keezer, it's also further evidence that Locke - along with Stefon Harris and Steve Nelson - is one of the most creative, open-minded and forward-thinking vibraphonists on the scene today.
The same can be said for the rest of the group, in particular Keezer, whose recent Wildcrafted: Live at the Dakota (MaxJazz, 2005) was a powerful document of his growing skills as improviser, composer and bandleader. His innate understanding of technology makes for a totally organic integration. And his writing - like Locke's - often places demands on both the players and listeners, but avoids complex constructs that exist merely for their own sake.
Bassist Mike Pope - heard recently on Bill Bruford's Earthworks Underground Orchestra (Summerfold, 2006) - provides an unshakable anchor. He's flexible enough to provide gentle support on Locke's evocative ballad "Miramar," and play more assertively on Keezer's funk/reggae-informed "Tulipa."
When speaking about the recent Montreal Jazz Festival's Suono Italia series, the increasingly ubiquitous Terreon Gully referred to it as "polite," and there's certainly nothing polite about his role here. During Keezer's solo on "Van Gogh by Numbers," the drummer proves himself more than just capable of responding to his surroundings, instead suggesting ideas rhythmically that elicit melodic responses. But as dominant as Gully is, he doesn't dominate. This is a quartet of collaboration, not of self-promotion.
Compare this version of "Van Gogh By Numbers" with the one on Van Gogh by Numbers (Wire Walker, 2006), Locke's mallet duo disc with marimba player Christos Rafalides. The title track was a detailed chamber piece - powerful in its own way, but also more delicate and ethereal. On Live in Seattle, with Pope and Gully, it becomes a fervent piece that approaches the energy of fusion, but without the excess.
There may be clearly delineated and impressive soloing throughout the hour-long set - Keezer and Locke deliver frenzied yet focused solos during the hard-swinging middle section of Locke's uptempo closer "The King (For T.M.)" - but what's most striking is how the quartet seems to breathe as a single entity.
On the one cover - James Taylor's anti-war song "Native Son," where Gully's military-style drumming sets up the mood perfectly - the quartet manages to retain its emotional ambiguity and moral simplicity while turning the piece into a vehicle for one of Locke's most lyrical solos of the set.
Arranging to record a concert always creates the hope for one of those special performances where everything gels perfectly. Live in Seattle captures the Locke/Keezer Group on one such occasion, finally realizing the fully contemporary potential of this ongoing collaboration.
Track listing: Van Gogh By Numbers; Honu; Fractured; Native Son; Miramar; Tulipa; The King (For T.M.).
Personnel: Joe Locke: vibes; Geoffrey Keezer: piano, keyboards; Mike Pope: acoustic and electric bass; Terreon Gully: drums.