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Lionel Loueke & Richard Bona in New York

Lionel Loueke

The pairing of these two enormously gifted musicians from West Africa-guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke from Benin and bassist-vocalist Richard Bona from Cameroon-proved to be a winning formula for inaugurating Jazz at Lincoln Center’s new Duo Tones series. Each is a classic triple threat: virtuoso instrumentalist, soul-stirring singer and prolific composer. And each conveys a charming, charismatic stage presence to boot. As duet partners they made magic in the magnificent Allen Room, with its 40-foot floor-to-ceiling windows behind the stage providing a breathtaking view of Manhattan’s Columbus Circle below, to the delight of this largely civilian crowd (clearly not the usual suspects that you regularly encounter in the jazz clubs).

Bona and Loueke had performed together once before, last summer at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival during Bona’s weeklong residency there. But that gig was under-rehearsed and only hinted at the tight, playful chemistry the two have developed. At the Allen Room, their four sets over two nights were well-prepared and played to each other’s strengths.

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