Album reviews

Joe Locke – ‘Makram’

Joe Locke – Makram 

(Circle 9 Records. Album review by Gareth Thomas)

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Makram is the latest studio album from pioneering American vibraphonist Joe Locke, whose extensive discography stretching back to the late 80s has seen him collaborate with a number of big names in American music including Cecil Taylor, Ron Carter and the Beastie Boys. 

The vibes master (as he is often endearingly dubbed) is joined by Jim Ridl on pianos and keyboards, Lorin Cohen on bass and Samvel Sarkisyan on drums – alongside a whole host of guest musicians who make appearances throughout.

Without mincing its words, ‘Makram’ launches straight into a boisterous rendition of Cole Porter’s Love for Sale, going off on the right foot with some enjoyably energetic solos from both Locke and Ridl. This is one of two standards that bookend the album, alongside Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life – the latter standing out on the album as a bright, unaccompanied vibraphone solo. 

The Porter standard is followed by an original composition from Locke, Raise Heaven (For Roy). This is a feeling tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who died in 2018; a slow ballad that’s underpinned by a rich accompaniment of brass and builds up to a powerful and emotional climax. 

Diversity is a focus on Makram. The album’s title track is a Middle-Eastern-inspired melody, composed, somewhat surprisingly, by Locke himself and backed by guest musicians Samir Nar Eddine on oud and Bahaa Daou on riq: an eastern percussive instrument very similar to the tambourine. Locke and the band cover other musical bases elsewhere, from hard bop and romantic ballads to Coltrane-esque chord changes. 

Saxophonist Tim Garland makes an appearance on Tushkin. And while the style isn’t quite to this particular reviewer’s taste (my own discomfort with certain styles of saxophone perhaps being connected with an aversion to 1980s/90s era smooth jazz), the playing is tight and well-delivered.

On a similar note, I would have quite liked to hear some more interesting tangents throughout the album – demonstrated, for instance, during a brief introduction to Shifting Moon with ambient effects and an ominous rumbling percussive introduction. For the most part, Makram plays within largely familiar territory. 

Nevertheless, that need not be a criticism. This is an album that certainly speaks to the talent and versatility of Locke and the quartet as players and as composers. There’s an interesting variety of tunes here, all of which make for good listening, and fans of Locke and vibraphone jazz are sure to enjoy it.

Makram was released on 17 February 2023 and is available here

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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