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Kevin Hays & Lionel Loueke: Hope (Edition)

A review of the duo album from the pianist and guitarist

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Kevin Hays & Lionel Loueke, Hope
The cover of Hope by Kevin Hays & Lionel Loueke

Talk about your lively and lovely pairings. Despite their extremely different backgrounds—pianist Kevin Hays hails from suburban Connecticut, guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin—these two notables show uncommonly strong bonds and clear communication skills. Personalities and palettes remain distinctive in their presentations, but time, shape, playfulness, and space align in beautifully uncanny fashion.

Working in perfect unity, these two musicians artfully toggle between capering escapades and reflective modes. Both settings suit them. “Violeta,” for Chilean singer/polymath Violeta Parra, prances with off-kilter grace and acuity. “Hope” defines itself through quiet yearning. “Aziza” draws inspiration from Beninese mythology, filtering it back into the music through sly grooves and puckish gestures. And Haitian traditional “Feuilles-O” showcases Hays’ calmly passionate voice intoning an alluring melody (in Haitian Creole). Sometimes this duo chooses to energize the music with direct current charges, but just as often they channel its energies into purely emotional realms. Of course, there are also occasions when both ideals are artfully merged into a seamless whole, as on “Twins.”

Eschewing electric avenues, Loueke sticks to acoustic guitar and Hays keeps his hands on the piano. The program is all the richer for this pure approach. Strings resonate with clarity, hammers strike true, and vocalized lines and gestures carry forth in pristine fashion. There’s tremendous presence in this music. Originally cut for and released by Newvelle Records as part of the label’s vinyl-only subscription series, and now available through the Edition imprint on CD and digital platforms (in an expanded version with three additional tracks), Hope delivers on its name and speaks to two different labels’ commitment to promoting one singular duo.

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Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.