On the surface, Three seems an utterly prosaic title. As students at Berklee, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth formed a trio, which they dubbed Gilfema, from the first syllable of each player’s given name (Loueke’s being Gilles). Although North American listeners would know them, if at all, from Loueke’s 2009 Blue Note album Karibu, prior to that Gilfema had recorded two albums in France. Hence Three—the third album by this trio.
Start listening, though, and it becomes clear that Three isn’t simply a continuation of Gilfema (2005) and Gilfema +2 (2008). Both those albums tended toward jazz practice in suborning song form to solo space. Three, by contrast, not only shifts the emphasis toward song, but uses overdubs to reinforce each song’s melodic content, both through multitracked vocals and additional guitar lines. Moreover, Biolcati, who sticks to double bass on the first two albums, is predominantly on electric here, lending more of a pop sheen to the overall sound.
And yet, taking Three as a move toward commercial accessibility misses the point, because what these three do here is to document the breadth of the African diaspora through its rhythmic variety. Although only one track is a cover—a gently polyrhythmic take on Hendrix’s “Little Wing”—Gilfema manages to cover quite a lot of ground, culturally and stylistically. There’s the sweet soukous insistence of “Brio,” the saucy high-life groove driving “Lé,” the laidback calypso pulse beneath “Fleuve Congo,” and a nod to the New Orleans funk of the Meters on “Algorythm and Blues.” While Loueke may dominate, if by way of overdubs, what carries the album is the communality of the groove, particularly the deep connection between Biolcati and Nemeth, who move through these tracks as if joined at the hip.