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11/10/12

Lionel Loueke
Heritage
Blue Note Records

It’s nearly impossible to overstate the stamp that Robert Glasper—as producer and as keyboardist on six of the 10 tracks—places on Beninese label mate Lionel Loueke’s third outing for Blue Note. Glasper’s penchant for obscuring the lines between contemporary and traditional finds a welcoming home in the work of the unceasingly exploratory guitarist Loueke.

On two of three songs Glasper had a hand in writing, “Tribal Dance” and “Hope”—both of which also feature frequent Loueke collaborator Gretchen Parlato on vocals—it’s Glasper who provides, respectively, the whispery, CTI-like retro-ness and the sweeping orchestral coloring. On the latter, Loueke is in a progressively swinging groove, Glasper sweetening the spaces with faux strings, when a cymbal crash shatters the air. From out of nowhere comes a spoken-word interlude, Loueke’s seductive monologue feeling Barry White even while his guitar feels Metheny.

But for all of Glasper’s influence, make no mistake, this is Loueke’s show, his most fully realized leader set to date. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the astounding opener, “Ifê” (his composition, no relation to Miles’ similarly named tune). The album’s Heritage theme is immediately and overtly stated up front with Loueke’s harmonically rich kora-like licks and a passel of layered Yoruba vocals that never subsides. Highly percussive Afrocentric polyrhythms underlie Loueke’s high-flying melodies, cleanly played as effects spray seemingly indiscriminately.

The tracks alternately play it cool or drive hard, and when left to their own devices Loueke and his resourceful trio—bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Guiliana—are almost claustrophobically tight (in a good way). In “Farafina” Hodge plucks mercilessly while Guiliana and Loueke spar, and in “Freedom Dance,” Loueke’s guitar acquires a nastiness it’s never known before. Highly entertaining, thoroughly invigorating stuff.

Originally published in October 2012
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