Gilfema + 2
One of the brightest talents to emerge this decade, Benin-born guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke has made significant strides in his career as a sideman to Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock as well as a solo artist in his own right. Meanwhile, one of Loueke’s most delightful outlets has been his ongoing cooperative trio Gilfema, formed with Swiss-born Italian resident bassist Massimo Biolcati and Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth when they were all attending the Berklee College of Music.
On their second outing together, the three demonstrate their uncanny chemistry in an expanded ensemble that includes Anat Cohen on clarinet and John Ellis on bass clarinet and ocarina. Loueke handles all the vocal duties, singing in his native Fon language while also scatting in unison with his facile and harmonically adventurous single-note lines, a George Bensonesque technique perhaps best exemplified here on the guitarist’s ebullient Brazilian-flavored “Festa.” And while Loueke’s nylon string guitar resonates with a rare purity of tone, he also fancies harmonizer and wah-wah effects, as he demonstrates effectively on his buoyant “Twins,” as well as on two powerful pieces penned by Biolcati, “Salomé” and “Master of the Obvious.”
Ellis’ bass clarinet provides a gutsy bottom end on Nemeth’s dynamic, harmonically involved “Question of Perspective” and his darkly meditative “Morning Dew.” He also contributes some pleasing ocarina and provocative bass clarinet lines on Loueke’s engaging, polyrhythmic, West African-flavored “LonLon Gnin” while Cohen’s frisky, freewheeling clarinet improvisations bring a spirited klezmer vibe to the proceedings on Loueke’s grooving “Your World.”
The three principals hit their stride on Loueke’s most challenging number, “Cove,” which shifts nimbly from intricate odd-metered patterns to intensely urgent freebop blowing in 4/4, featuring some whirlwind exchanges between Loueke and Nemeth along the way. And they create a dreamy ambiance, with the addition of some beautiful, swirling counterpoint harmonies provided by Ellis’ low register and Cohen’s high-register clarinets, on Biolcati’s gentle ballad “One’s Mind’s Eye.”
While Loueke’s recent Blue Note debut, Karibu, may have turned a lot of heads (especially with the presence of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock), the material on this strong outing hits deeper and stays longer.