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Lionel Loueke: GAIA

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Gaïa, Lionel Loueke’s fourth album since signing with Blue Note Records, is jazz that’s also “world music,” in more ways than one. The new album is stellar despite being devoid of the big-name guest stars who popped up on its three predecessors, mentors Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and colleagues Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding among them. Gaïa, rather, is performed entirely by the Beninese guitarist’s trio with Swedish bassist Massimo Biolcati and Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth, guys he’s been working with since they met as international students at Berklee in the late ’90s.

What they studied there and are playing here-live, for an intimate studio audience-capitalizes on jazz’s amoeba-like ability to engulf and incorporate other music. Loueke channels his inner Hendrix on “Wacko Loco” and “Procession”; summons a Beninese forest spirit on “Aziza Dance”; mimics the lute-like African gimbri on “Sleepless Night,” talking drums on “Even Teens” and steel drums on the lyrical “Sources of Love”; sings, via his guitar, like a widow crying for her husband on “Veuve Malienee”; and switches to acoustic for “Rain Wash.” And the trio handles complex time signatures, like 33/8 on the album-opening “Broken” and 35/8 on the title track, like child’s play.

Loueke wrote every tune on the wide-ranging album except the closing cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” and all of it-the cover included-is tied to a single theme: the damage being done to the planet Earth by global warming. World music, indeed.

Originally Published