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.”