Following the fusion influenced "Live In Seattle" (with Geoffrey Keezer) in 2006 and "Sticks And Strings" (with Jonathan Kreisberg) in 2007, "Force of Four" continues vibe player Joe Locke's very strong recent run of inventive albums.
The new quartet ? Joe Locke (vibraphone), Robert Rodriguez (piano and electric piano), Ricardo Rodriguez (bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) ? is the ideal vehicle for a pleasing programme of innovative post bop.
The opener "Like Joe", composed by pianist Robert Rodriguez, is a tribute to the great sax player Joe Henderson who was one of the first to bring latin inspired rhythms into jazz and whose seminal partnership with vibe player Bobby Hutcherson produced some the best jazz of the period. The idea of omitting saxophone is radical but successful; Joe Henderson's undervalued compositional inventiveness is highlighted at the same time as Joe Locke and Robert Rodriguez get to play some thrilling solos.
"No Moe" was written and performed by Sonny Rollins and recorded in a rare encounter with The Modern Jazz Quartet ("Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet" on Concord/OJC). Rearranging this into a slinky show stopper and adding Miles Davis-like Harmon-muted trumpet from Thomas Marriott produces another stand out track.
Two further stand-outs add tenor sax from Wayne Escofery, a player growing in stature from his work in Tom Harrell's band. "Blue November" written by Christos Rafalides, Joe Locke's pupil and collaborator, and Joe Locke's own "Alpha Punk" are upbeat and funk/fusion orientated with pianist Robert Rodriguez switching to electric piano and drummer Johnathan Blake delivering rock inspired rhythms. "Ricky's Tune", written by bassist Ricardo Rodriguez, has a similar feel and instrumentation but does not feature saxophone.
"Available in Blue", the Johnny Mercer/David Raksin standard "Laura" and "Ruminations" balance out the album with more contemplative material in which the interplay between vibes and piano is a strong feature.
A complete and absorbing album, very highly recommended.