by Jack Massarik, Evening Standard
July 7, 2008
More ghosts than usual seemed to hover over this hallowed bandstand last night as New York vibraphonist Joe Locke paid homage to two fallen colleagues. Vocalist trumpeter Mark Ledford departed last November, and tenorist Bob Berg shared his last gig with Locke before perishing in a 2002 motorway crash.
Locke himself, an arresting sight at the vibes with the straight back and wiry frame of a champion gymnast, looked as fit as ever. And with Milt Jackson gone and Bobby Hutcherson at the veteran stage, he's running out of rivals. Roy Ayers has the funk factor and Gary Burton the feathery chordwork but for dazzling straight-ahead improvisation at speed, Locke's four-mallet control is absolute.
Leading a fine young group featuring pianist Robert Rodriguez and unrelated bassist Ricardo Rodriguez, he produced a mixed-metre treatment of Laura and shimmering versions of Blue in Green and My One and Only Love.
Johnathon Blake, a chunky, bespectacled drummer who manages to play drums brilliantly with his elbows pinned to his sides, starred in a funk arrangement Locke envisaged in a dream. "I imagined the '53 Rollins meeting the '78 Yellowjackets," he explained. "It must have been something I ate."
Opposite them is Toscha Comeaux, a big, beautiful, sweetnatured singer from Florida via Connecticut. She can scat a little but is happy just caressing the notes with a touch of gospelnurtured melisma. Her US trio, with pianist Will Delisfort, bassist-MD Anthony Chatman and Londonbased expat drummer Rod Youngs, does an unflashily solid job.