LIVE: Joe Locke & Jim Ridl @ Senate Garage, 4/21/18

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Jim Ridl and Joe Locke
Jim Ridl and Joe Locke

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

For jazz duets to work well, they need a third partner. Let me explain: I find studio recordings of jazz duos to be dry and lifeless, regardless of the talent on display or the instruments they play; however, live recordings of duets (such as Chick Corea & Bela Fleck’s 2015 double-disc Two, or Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch’s recent Anzic release Live at Healdsburg) offer more intensity and urgency for the simple reason that the music is made in the moment, with constant feedback from a third partner – the audience. So when vibes master Joe Locke and pianist Jim Ridl got together in front of a lively full house at Senate Garage in Kingston, all the boxes for a great night were checked off.

Locke and Ridl have been friends for years, so that relationship was firmly established; Locke was raised in Rochester and has been gigging in the Hudson Valley for decades, so his relationship with area jazz fans was also firmly established; and finally, Teri Roiger & John Menegon’s concert promotion arm Jazzstock has been making Senate Garage a prime destination for those aforementioned jazz fans for almost a year and a half. In short, everybody knew everybody in one form or another and was all primed to go when Locke and Ridl opened the night with a mesmerizing reading of Chick Corea’s “Windows.”

Locke started out in the clear, his mallets running up and down the vibes like a pack of big dogs, as he vocalized the notes running round his brain. Ridl eventually slid in and installed a floor for the piece as Locke tapped out staccato notes that could have been Morse code. It was percussion all around as Locke rolled and ran while Ridl kept the foundation strong and unerring. Then, with one ringing high note, Locke handed the piece over to Ridl and foundation became melody and more in the blink of an eye. Previously locked into a specific riff, Ridl’s right hand was free to roam the keyboard while Locke dropped into a subtle, ringing comp. The crowd shook itself out of its hypnotic daze long enough to applaud both Locke’s performance and the seamless trade-off, and then it got back down to the tricky business of catching every bit of beauty the duo threw out there.

Locke and Ridl followed “Windows” with a bluesy take on the Hank Williams classic “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” a tune Locke had seen Ridl play in another duo concert with guitarist Adam Rogers. But while Locke and Ridl gave “Autumn in New York” a lovely reboot later in the set and did a spot-on version of “Native Son” (James Taylor’s song about Desert Storm vets coming home “in tatters”), this was not just a night of standards and covers. Locke dedicated “Red Cloud,” a track from his upcoming release Subtle Disguise, to the leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe, more widely known as the Sioux. “Red Cloud was a badass,” Locke sagely informed us, and you felt Red Cloud’s outsized, muscular personality throughout the wide, expansive composition.

That wasn’t the first new tune Locke pulled out of his trick bag, either. We got a pretty decent tour of the new disc, as well as insight into the pieces themselves. The title for “Safe and Sound at the Edge of the Milky Way,” which was filled with love and comfort, came from a piece of dialogue Locke described from an old Albert Finney/Matthew Modine film called Orphans. The distress-tinged title track to Subtle Disguises spoke to the “masks” we all wear to get through the day, to deal with difficult people, or to hide our innermost fears and trepidations. All three unreleased tracks added levels of excitement and discovery to the night, and it will be interesting to hear how the pieces sound with a full band underneath them.

Locke and Ridl didn’t need a full band to keep our attention for their 80-minute set. Senate Garage’s bewitching acoustics worked with the pair to make the music seem almost church-like, particularly Locke’s ringing vibes. It even made me buy a bottle of water instead of a can of seltzer, because I wanted my drink to open quietly. And yet, that reverent atmosphere didn’t separate the players from the audience, drawing both groups together into one beautiful vibe. “Oftentimes,” Locke admitted, “it’s like we fight the sound. Tonight, the sound is our friend.” Locke felt so comfortable that he stopped the opening to “Red Cloud” and said, “We’re going to start that again, because you can do that among friends!”

Locke offered Ridl the chance to talk about his composition “You Know How It Is,” a straight-up blues that would close the set. “Ummmmmm… no,” Ridl finally said, breaking us all up. Part of that may have been because Locke had spent the evening being his loquacious self, but I’d like to think Ridl just wanted to get back to the music, because both the performance and the communication had been sterling all night long. None of us could have blamed him on that score. Intensity and intimacy are qualities that rarely mesh well, but on a night where all three partners were simpatico, those characteristics – like Joe Locke and Jim Ridl – made an unbeatable pairing.

GO HERE to see more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…

UPCOMING: Next up on Jazzstock’s schedule of concerts at Senate Garage in Kingston is the collaboration of veteran trumpeter Warren Vache with the John di Martino Trio at 7:30pm on Thursday, May 24. Tickets are on sale now, priced at $25.

Teri Roiger and John Menegon
Teri Roiger and John Menegon
Joe Locke
Joe Locke

Jim Ridl
Jim Ridl
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

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