Joe Locke: On the Ascension, Part 2-2
“I was talking recently about the correlation between literature and music,” continues Locke. “There’s a piece on the record called “Wind in Your Willows,” which is inspired in part by the children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. There are other pieces that are inspired by literature, but if I was going to put a book with the song “Dear Life” it would be the autobiography of Pablo Casals, entitled Joys and Sorrows. For me, “Dear Life” talks about loss and regret, and sadness and pain and at the very same time the elation of being in the moment, and joy and happiness and how they are all part and parcel of each other. There’s an aspect of that for the guys in the band, the loss of Bob Berg was a source of great pain, but there are other things as well. I’m forty-five now, and there are things which have happened in my life that are the cause of great sadness and regret, and these things are carried with me and inform me as a musician. You can’t help but be affected by these things, and at the same time I’ve experienced great happiness, joy and beauty, and it’s almost as if the painful things in life make those moments of joy more profound, because they stand in contrast to the times of pain and they make times of elation and joy even deeper and more meaningful.
“So I wasn’t going to call the record Dear Life ,” concludes Locke, “even though in my head and my heart I knew that was the name of the song. But at the end of the recording date, which went really well, I was packing up my vibraphone and someone walked up to Gary and said, ‘man, you really played your butt off,’ and he just said, ‘oh man, I was just hanging on for dear life.’ And when he said that it was almost like a sign to me, I stopped and looked over at Gary and thought, ‘he just said the title I’m trying so hard not to call the record,’ the words just came out of his mouth and I thought that was a sign, critics be damned, I have to use it.
What is most remarkable about Dear Life is how, with a fifty percent change in the personnel of the group, it still manages to retain its unique sound and identity. “There are a few things that I could point to as to why that is,” Locke says. “One thing that perhaps unifies the two projects is that my writing has become more personal, I’m able to put more of my own story into the writing. There are a lot of composers who I don’t consider myself worthy to be in the same room as, and some of them are guys I play with, but one thing that I do think is that my heart is connected to my pen. I think the writing on the 4 Walls of Freedom Suite was coming from a very personal place; a lot of that music has high energy, but whether it’s energetic or, for example, the second movement, “Prayer,” it’s intensely personal and the songs tell a very personal story. And I think that’s even truer of the second record. The songs come from my life experience and hopefully that’s a uniting thing.
“Of course the other reason would have to be Gary Novak,” continues Locke, “how his playing is such an important aspect to the sound of the band. His presence, playing and identity as a rhythmic force are so strong that his appearance on both records is a big reason why it sounds like a band.
“I really feel that 4 Walls of Freedom is the fruition of a long journey thus far for me,” Locke concludes. “I’m really heartened that the other guys in the band are as into the project as I am and we all hope that we can continue working as a band for a long time to come. I think the only way that the music can develop in general terms, not just my music, is through longevity; to continue doing it, and for the same people to play together for a long period of time, so I just hope I can keep doing it.”