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Joe Locke pays tribute to musicians past on 'Makram'


On dozens of albums and countless performances over the decades, Rochester-raised Joe Locke has established himself as one of the world’s greatest vibraphonists. Released on Feb. 17, Locke’s new album, “Makram” — with pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Lorin Cohen, and drummer Samvel Sarkisyan — reinforces Locke’s stellar reputation from start to finish.

Locke has developed a style perfectly suited to the ringing bars of the vibraphone. With great sensitivity he creates hauntingly beautiful voicings with chords and arpeggios. His original tunes have a unique sound and his takes on standards are anything but standard. Locke’s arrangements are simply gorgeous.

Five of the nine tracks on “Makram” are tributes or elegies. “Raise Heaven,” Locke’s homage to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove, boasts a beautiful brass arrangement by the album’s co-producer and trombonist Doug Beavers.

Other tributes include “Tushkin,” Sarkisyan’s salute to his grandfather (featuring outstanding playing by Tim Garland on soprano sax, bass clarinet, and flute); “Song for Vic Juris,” Ridl’s homage to the late guitarist, and Locke’s “Elegy for Us All,” a meditation on our country, which Locke sees slipping away from hard-earned progress and democracy itself.

The Middle Eastern-tinged title track, “Makram,” is named for Lebanese bassist Makram Aboul Hosn, Locke’s friend and sometime-collaborator. Sarkisyan holds down the 5/4 time signature, while Ridl and Locke unleash beautiful solos. The quartet is augmented on this tune by Samir Nasr Eddine on oud and Bahaa Daou on riq (a Moroccan tambourine).

The album’s seven original tunes are bookended by two standards. Opening with a vibrant group rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale,” Locke closes with a compelling solo interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” An appropriate quote from Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” is just one of the ways Locke evokes the song’s sad story with no need for words.

Ron Netsky is a contributing writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to [email protected].