Just three years after settling in New York City, guitarist Lionel Loueke has established himself as an original, in-demand player on the scene. While he continues to tour and record with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, an ongoing gig he’s had since moving to town in May 2003, Loueke also plays in groups led by vocalist and Monk Competition winner Gretchen Parlato, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Watts (Tain and the Ebonix). Loueke is also currently a member of the Jaebane Ensemble, a new group featuring pianist Robert Glasper, harmonica ace Gregoire Maret and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. In addition, he has appeared in a new edition of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and toured Japan with an all-star ensemble featuring Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade.
Loueke’s polyrhythmic fingerstyle approach on his nylon-string Godin and Yamaha acoustic guitars is a unique hybrid style that combines aspects of his studies in jazz and classical guitar with his own background as a percussionist growing up in Benin, West Africa. “I played percussion for years and didn’t pick up the guitar until I was 17,” he says. “My older brother was playing the guitar, so it was the first instrument I touched other than percussion.”
After studying music theory in the Ivory Coast, Loueke moved to Paris, where he studied jazz harmony for three years at the American School of Modern Music. It was during that period that he first encountered the music of such jazz-guitar modernists as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and John Abercrombie. He received a two-year scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, where he studied with guitarist Mick Goodrick and also met and began playing with his current trio partners, acoustic bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth. Together, the three relocated to Los Angeles to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute, where they continued to study and further develop as a unit. Their remarkable chemistry can now be readily heard on the trio’s brilliant debut recording on ObliqSound, Gilfema.
“We’ve been playing a lot together for five years now,” says Loueke. “During the two years that we spent together at the Monk Institute in Los Angeles, we were playing every day for about four hours per day. Then we moved to New York and have been playing a lot of gigs together since then. So we have really developed something very special in all that time, especially with working on different meters. The point is to make them sound really natural whether we’re playing in 13, 7 or 6/8. Basically, we want to be able to dance on our own rhythm without focusing on counting at all.”
Gilfema also highlights Loueke’s pianistic comping style along with his inherent sense of lyricism and an outstanding linear approach that involves daring intervallic leaps and is often accompanied by his own hauntingly beautiful wordless vocals in unison. Loueke further demonstrates his personalized approach on his intriguing solo project In a Trance. Recorded for the European Space Time label and available through cdbaby.com or lionelloueke.com, it showcases his signature percussive approach while also introducing various electronic effects, including creative looping of both his instrument and his voice.
Loueke is presently writing new material for the Gilfema trio that will incorporate more electronics into the mix. “I do like the pure sound of the nylon-string guitar,” he says, “but I also like using effects because it opens up the trio. The different sounds make the guys react differently and make me play differently too.”Originally Published