When former RochesterianJoe Locke plays at Kilbourn Hall it's always an event. I still vividly remember a long-haired Locke as a punky teenager, already brilliant on the vibes, playing little clubs on Alexander Street. And look at him now, arguably the best jazz vibraphonist in the world. The hometown fans couldn't be more proud and he's happy to be surrounded by them.
He was especially happy Monday night because he was playing the compositions from his new album "Love Is a Pendulum" which he called the best work he's ever done. I agree. I love the album and he played it wonderfully live.
Hearing Locke is only half the experience. Seeing him completes it. Part of it is his mallet ballet. He uses the dazzling four-mallet technique and they dance over the bars frenetically, finding just the right ones to strike in milliseconds. Locke is also dancing from side to side, forward and back, with grand flourishes.
"Love Is a Pendulum" is based on a great poem by Barbara Sfraga, dealing metaphorically with every facet of love. Locke recited each short but profound verse to the audience before interpreting each in music.
For instance "Love Is a Tide" featured Locke's vibes riding over waves of rhythm supplied by his band. In "Love Is a Planchette" he evoked the floating quality of a planchette moving across a Ouija board. In several of the movements (this work is as classical as it is jazz) pianist Robert Rodriguez took the spotlight for some excellent solos. Terreon Gully (drums) and Ricky Rodriguez (bass) were also superb throughout.
Because his concert was based on a poem Locke began the evening by discussing the role his youth in Rochester has played in his career and in his love of words. He talked about his father working as a professor at the University of Rochester and his early childhood memories of running around and hiding in the stacks of the Rush Rhees Library.
He ended with another salute to Rochester. Toward the end of his encore, a song titled "Embrace," based on George Gershwin's "Embraceable You," he slipped in a quote: the main theme of Chuck Mangione's great tune, "Land of Make Believe."
I know abstract expressionist painting pretty well. Tonight, after hearing Eivind Opsvik Overseas at the Lutheran church, I think I know abstract expressionist music. In painting all of the elements are there -- colors, brushstrokes, composition -- but without depicting anything. In bassist Eivind Opsvik's music all of the elements were there -- notes, chords, rhythm -- but they didn't add up to melodies in any traditional way.
The saxophonist would sometimes get a pattern going, the guitarist would strum electronic effects and the pianist would verge on lyrical but not quite get there. For the most part, the entire set was like a musical Frankenstein monster lumbering about. And that wasn't a bad thing.
Trio Red, over at Christ Church, was more traditional but tougher to get a handle on. In their second set, most of the tunes were so halting, they felt like they were not quite finished with their gestation. This was especially strange because the group's leader, drummer Tom Bancroft, spoke between tunes in the manner of a brash comedian. His songs had absurd titles but only one, the last one, "The Mole Of History Takes A Bow (And Trips)," was lively and fully formed.
I'll start Tuesday night at Kilbourn Hall with one of the top pianists in jazz, Fred Hersch. Then, I'll head over to the Lutheran Church to hear another piano player who walks on the avant-garde side, Julia Hulsmann, and her trio.