Lionel Loueke, "Heritage" (Blue Note)
Lionel Loueke's distinctive blend of African rhythms and modern jazz has already impressed such jazz legends as Herbie Hancock, who has prominently featured the guitarist on his recent recordings and in his touring bands. On "Heritage," his third release for the Blue Note label, Loueke teams with another innovative, genre-stretching musician, keyboard player Robert Glasper, whose richly textured music combines jazz with hip-hop, R&B and soul. Glasper co-produced and performs on the album and also contributed two compositions.
Loueke's new lineup — with a powerful rhythm section of electric bassist Derrick Hodge (of Glasper's Experiment band) and drummer Mark Guiliana — has a sound that is more groove-oriented and electric compared with the guitarist's previous releases. Loueke himself switches from the softer nylon-string acoustic guitar to play steel-string acoustic and electric guitars.
On the opening "Ife" ("Love" in Yoruba), Loueke begins with some percussive guitar work, uses clicking sounds to accent his vocals and creates infectious Afro-rhythm grooves colored by electronic effects. The bittersweet ballad "Chardon" ("Thistle" in French) is more European-influenced with Loueke displaying a delicate, lyrical touch on acoustic guitar.
Glasper's "Tribal Dance," featuring backup vocals by Gretchen Parlato, has repetitive, soaring, trance-inducing melody lines that rise and fall in intensity, while Loueke's feel-good, high-energy "Freedom Dance" has Loueke playing an electric guitar solo over Hodge's funky bass lines.
Loueke wrote most of the 10 tunes on "Heritage." It reflects the guitarist's musical roots and personal odyssey from his native Benin in West Africa to France and then the United States, where he has established himself as one of the most distinctive new artists on today's jazz scene.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "Hope" closes with an inspirational soft-spoken message from Loueke in his native Fon language about not giving up when all seems dark.