REVIEW: Mark Lockett – Any Last Requests?

New Zealand drummer Mark Lockett‘s remarkable trio with Joey Johnson and Jakob Dreyer grew almost organically out of the earth. Saxophonist Johnson met Lockett while he was playing in NYC’s Central Park; bassist Dreyer joined after a subway jam; a passing caf owner offered them a residency which grew into five days a week for several years – with people yelling requests, and the band playing them, often learning new tunes on the hop. Voil! – a three headed improv machine was born, in the most human way.

And it shows.

On the trio’s recent album, Any Last Requests?, the trio span well-loved standards, as well as hardcore jazz tunes – all with the variety, dexterity and telepathy that only a group forged in the NYC fire can. Each of the three brings everything necessary for three to become one, in aspiration and in execution.

Opening standard, Irving Berlin’s bittersweet ‘Remember’, is taken at a loose swing, with Johnson’s horn setting up its unique voice, with some particularly lovely phrase ending and surprising timbral effects.

But it is on the next two tunes – Herbie Hancock’s ‘Drifting’ and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Deluge’ – that the three open up wide. The joyous bounce of ‘Drifting’ is smattered with a beautiful rhythm section conversation under the tenor – improvised hits, off-beats and flurries of double-time, which always connect to the improvised line above and, through that, back to the originalhead. All connects, all breathes together. As it should be.

Shorter’s Arabic-tinged ‘Deluge’ has bassist Dreyer suggesting the harmony while never setting it in aspic. The flow is the more important aesthetic, with the result being that, at times, the harmony seems to fly off in more than one direction at once. Like Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman’s group – an obvious touchstone for this piano-less trio – Dreyer’s taste and drive ensures a ground, but never a solid, bogged one.

The triple-time take on the Jules Styne standard ‘Just in Time’ wraps a blazing performance around a Lockett solo that encapsulates all that is good about his playing. The invention, dynamic sensitivity and – of ultimate importance in a sax-bass-drums trio – the melodic approach, is stunning. Lockett is a rare drummer – I could try to explain all the nuance, but you need to hear him to grok it all.

The lack of a chord instrument is one of the most exciting things about this particular combo format – as with Ornette, the freedom can often make one gasp for breath. But it can also have its challenges, such as the Ballad. Here, the performance of the lovely ‘My One and Only Love’ is taken at such a slow pace, without the glue of chords – both horizontally and vertically – that, at times, it threatens to stretch itself to snapping. But it doesn’t – the trio holds it right to where it should be. Quite something.

Any Last Requests? serves up a palette of many colours, considering the limited timbal range of horn-bass-drums. Sam River’s ‘Beatrice’ is driven by Dreyer’s funky bass; ‘Shiny Stockings’ is taken at a lovely hazy lazy lope; album closer Sonny Rollin’s ‘Valse Hot’ plays with the 3/4 time signature in every which way.

The title of the album is taken from Lockett’s question to the audience at the end of one the trio’s caf hits, where they played any shouted standards – “Any last requests?”

I, for one, am a little sad this particulate hit is over.

The Johnston – Dreyer – Locket trio is currently on tour around New Zealand and Australia

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