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October 2, 2012 5:20 pm
Joe Locke and Geoffrey Keezer’s exuberant, multi-textured vibes and piano quartet began life in 2005 with a storming gig in Seattle. They stayed together long enough to promote the recording, and then went their separate ways – David Sanborn and Chick Corea for bassist Mike Pope; Kurt Elling and Christian McBride for drummer Terreon Gully. They recently re-united to record the album Signing, and now fit sporadic promotional forays into their busy personal schedules.
Locke and Keezer are fluent, expressive technicians whose mutual support is founded on a long history of joint projects – saxophonist Tim Garland from their Storms and Nocturnes Trio sat in at the end of the second set. At this gig, both musicians played with their customary commitment, grasp of roots and sense of form. Locke’s body, taut with concentration, would snap backwards in exultation to let a blue-note ride, and Keezer’s two-handed independence was delivered as though lost to the world.
Locke’s tone reverberates with the soulful edge and the metallic sheen of past masters such as Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton – the latter was name-checked as a teenage influence in a long story introducing a homage to vocalist Jimmy Scott – and Keezer coaxed a similar depth of tone from the club’s grand piano.
But what really impressed was the integration of the rhythm section, the focus of the band and the way both leaders avoided florid extremes. The new material, presented in the first set, tweaked a traditional form with fusion flavours and contemporary beats. Each composition had a story tell. Sunshine vibes introduced “Her Sanctuary”, a paean to a retreat in Vermont, “Darth Vardis” came with a tricky bass riff and the finale, “Signing”, the stinging backbeats of up-tempo left-field rock.
While Pope held the form with a rumble of bass guitar riffs and acoustic bass swing, Gully decorated with chattering beats, stunted hi-hat punches and brittle, time-bending rolls. His relationship with vibist Locke bordered on the clairvoyant. The second set, more traditionally soulful and open-ended, remained tightly argued right up to Garland’s guest appearance on “Twisted Blues”. An uplifting gig, capped by Locke’s shimmering, unaccompanied ballad encore.
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