Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 2-2
Armed with the 4 Walls suite, another suite called “Suite di Morfeo,” and the tune “Crescent Street,” Locke and the group recorded the first, self titled album, Four Walls of Freedom. And with that album, Locke managed to transcend simply making an album of strong material well-played, instead creating a concept that had a distinctive sound and identity. “One of the things that I was very happy about,” explains Locke, “was that when I wrote this suite of music knowing who the players were going to be, I knew what kind of energy and spirituality Gary, James and Bob would bring to bear, so I was able to write this music that had been gestating in me for a long time, knowing that it was going to be executed by these musicians.
Making a Piano-less Quartet Sound Huge
“One thing I’m very proud of,” Locke continues, “is that normally a piano-less quartet with vibraphone sounds somehow smaller; this quartet, in some ways, sounds bigger than a quartet with piano. I think the reason, sometimes, that a quartet with vibraphone sounds smaller than a quartet with piano is because the music being played was really intended for a piano, but the vibraphone is trying to fit the bill the best it can. In this case I was able to write specifically knowing that there wasn’t going to be a piano, so I wrote bass lines fitting with melodies and the vibraphone fit in between those spaces so it would sound as full as possible. And I’m really happy that the quartet, sometimes, actually sounds huge.
“There are also some places,” Locke concludes, “where I use midi vibes sparingly, just for a little bit of a pad underpinning the vibraphone sound, to make it sound more orchestrated. And I open the suite with this really overdriven guitar sound that is actually being triggered from the vibraphone. It’s just something that works with the concept of the group, it’s autobiographical really. ‘Surfacing,’ the first track of the suite, is about how things sometimes come to the surface, from deep in one’s psyche, in an aggressive and sudden way. I thought that opening with solo vibraphone would be too pretty; I really wanted to have an aggressive, in your face kind of sound to open the record. And I wanted it to be emitting from the vibraphone.”
Before the project was recorded, the group spent a week at Ronnie Scott’s in London, honing the group sound and the dynamics of the material. “We played the music exactly as it went down on the CD for six nights in a row,” Locke explains, “and then we flew back to the States, took a day off, and went into the studio and recorded it, playing it basically live as if we were at Ronnie Scott’s. It’s also interesting that Gerard Presencer, who guested on flugelhorn on some of the tracks, was opening for us at Ronnie Scott’s. My assumption was, when we realized that we were going to be doing the recording with him, and that he would be opening for us, that he could sit in with us, get into the music and be ready for the recording session. But, instead, he bowed out of that each night saying that he wanted to give his lip a rest. So he never actually played the music with us, and so what you’re hearing on the recording is Gerard playing those songs for the very first time, and it says a lot about what a jazz musician he really is, because I think he could easily have played with us every night and worked out his ideas, but he chose not to because he wanted to be completely spontaneous at the recording session.