Vibraphonist Joe Locke collaborates with faculty and students

On Sunday, May 8, visiting jazz vibraphonist Joe Locke and a supporting ensemble of Lawrence music students and professors gave a recital in Harper Hall. Those in attendance were treated to a rare performance of the multi-movement “Love is a Pendulum” Suite, an original composition by Locke himself.

Joe Locke is an accomplished musician who has performed around the world. One of the most well-known contemporary vibraphonists, he typically travels around the United States to play with large and small ensembles in all types of concerts. He composes most of the pieces he plays and is interested in the connections between music and poetry.

The concert opened with “As the Moon Draws Water,” a brief, romantic piece composed by Associate Professor of Music and bassist Mark Urness, who played with the group. The piece introduced listeners to the sounds of strings in this jazz setting and gave Locke the chance to make a stunning first impression.

Then, Locke prepared the audience for the upcoming “Love is a Pendulum” Suite, which is based on a poem by Barbara Sfraga, a musician and writer whose influence shaped the composition. He spoke about his background and how his family’s love for words and reading led to his penchant for writing music based on literature.

“Love is a Pendulum” is broken down into five movements that mirror the titular poem’s five stanzas. Their evocative titles follow the “Love is…” formula. Standouts included “III—Love is a Planchette,” which included advanced cross-rhythms and virtuosic vibraphone and bass solos, and “IV—Love is Letting Go,” built on a percussion and cello ostinato rhythm with a happy-but-remorseful mood.

Several Lawrence faculty members worked together to bring Locke’s concert to life. Professor of Music and percussionist Dane Richeson and Professor Urness brought Locke to Lawrence. They gathered other faculty members and students to fill the remaining five positions in the grand ensemble, which featured George and Marjorie Olsen Chandler Professor of Music Janet Anthony; Associate Professor of Music Matthew Michelic; Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación; sophomore Meghan Murphy and freshman McKenzie Fetters.

This unlikely jazz octet rehearsed many times with Locke, who claimed to have learned a lot from the process, which he called a “labor of love.” After the 55-minute show and a deep ensemble bow, the ensemble proudly left the stage together.