On the surface it’s not so easy to spot the common thread unifying the greater fabric of Joe Locke’s work. Since arriving in New York City in 1981, and emerging as a notable leader on record in the early ‘90s, this much-vaunted vibraphonist has developed into a protean performer and composer. Duo sessions with pianists Frank Kimbrough and Kenny Barron, a collaboration with vocalist Kenny Washington, dates co-led with pianists David Hazeltine and Geoffrey Keezer, an album with Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, straight-ahead sounds, left-of-center excursions, and long form works all figure into his discography, making it all the more difficult to spot said common thread. But it’s right there, sewn into the music in subtle and not-so-subtle ways: the influence of language—poetry, literature, words, even a simple remark uttered in passing—on the very different medium of music.
For Locke, a metaphor can serve as muse, a turn of phrase can provide the DNA for new musical life, and a poem can be the key to unlocking the door to deeper meaning. And with the release of Love Is a Pendulum (2015)—perhaps the most personal and emotionally charged work that Locke has yet produced—that relationship between words and music is fully illuminated. […]