Joe Locke reckons with love in its many dimensions.
By Shaun Brady
The annual “Jazz at the Estate” concert, an outdoor fest-within-a-fest that highlights Cape May, New Jersey’s Exit 0 Jazz Festival, is nothing if not scenic. The day-long show takes place on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate, a Victorian house museum in the middle of the quaint seaside resort town. The stage is set against a dilapidated barn, giving a rustic, picturesque feel to the performances.
But from his perspective onstage, Joe Locke was looking down onto an empty, V-shaped patch of gravel formed by the conjunction of two sections of folding chairs. Squinting against the midday sun on a hot late-May afternoon, Locke lamented the lack of seating nearer the front of the stage. “I wish you were closer,” he shrugged.
In the moment, it was a simple, off-the-cuff utterance. But taken out of context, “I wish you were closer” could serve as Locke’s mission statement. The vibraphonist creates music that exults in intimacy and open-hearted expression. Locke’s approach can be seen just by glancing at the titles of his albums, especially those released in the last few years since he signed with the Motéma label: For the Love of You, Wish Upon a Star, Lay Down My Heart, and most recently, Love Is a Pendulum.
“The most important things in life to me are relationships,” Locke, 56, said that morning in the restaurant of his beachfront hotel. “They’re the things that I’ve gotten the most joy from and I’ve struggled the most with, and there’s a lot of juice in both the joy and the struggle. I’ve learned about myself — and continue to learn about myself — not just by looking in the mirror but through the prism of relationships. Whether it’s friendships or romantic or familial relationships, they’re all different manifestations of love.”
Photo: John Abbott