Mark Lockett has released his seventh album Swings & Roundabouts, arguably his finest. The project had been in gestation for a while but like many projects, it was delayed by the pandemic. Still, once the travel restrictions were lifted he headed for New York, engaged some of New York’s finest Jazz musicians and set up the session in the Samurai Hotel Recording Studio, Queens—a studio versed in the intricacies of recording jazz tracks.
Lockett may be a Wellingtonian and from Aotearoa, but he is very much a citizen of the world. He has spent his most productive years dividing his time between New York, Melbourne and his hometown, and frequently touring in between. Over recent years, he is most often caught with chordless configurations, especially saxophone, bass and drums. His drumming style is interesting and these configurations afford him more room compositionally (and as a player). He is first and foremost a storyteller, and his ability to amplify his stories benefits from this type of spaciousness.
I have often seen Lockett perform with chordless trios, but adding another horn has created interesting possibilities. He has always preferred these configurations and this is another step along the way. These are often referred to as saxophone quartets or trios but unlike Lee Konitz’s famous ‘Motion’, where the drummer kept as much in the background as possible, this is a very democratic unit where everyone shines. The compositions are all by the leader and there are unmistakable references to Ornette, and perhaps even Jerry Mulligan’s chordless quartets (Happy go Lucky). In reality, the term cordless is misleading as chords feature in the head arrangements, but above all, these compositions provide an opportunity for untethered linear improvisation.
It is hard to imagine a better unit for this project. Dave Binney on alto saxophone, whether moving with his light-as-air alacrity or gently probing at the compositions, locates the most interesting pathways forward. And as he goes, flashes across the firmament with rapid-fire lines. I love what he does here. Duane Eubanks is also well-suited to finding the essence of these interesting tunes and burnishing what he finds. A respected veteran who delivers and provides the counterweight of solidity. The unison lines and the moments where these two converge in counterpoint are immaculate. It is also, always a pleasure to hear Matt Penman and he is so consistent in what he brings to a performance that I have come to doubt that he could ever put a foot wrong. His sound is woody and rich and his lines are perfect. Above all, he lifts those around him.
And none of this would work with a mediocre or reticent drummer and Lockett is far from being either. His unusually melodic approach to the kit and his ability to react in the moment gifts his band some real meat to chew on. I have never heard him play better. If the release tour heads your way, don’t miss it, and buy the album. Swings and Roundabouts is available on all platforms and is released by Thick Records, www.thickrecords.co.nz
JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, a Judge in the 7VJC International Jazz Competition, and a poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on other sites with the author’s permission.