Lionel Loueke Trio On JazzSet

Written by Becca Pulliam from WBGO-FM

The New York Times writer Jon Pareles called Lionel Loueke “the gentle virtuoso” for the engaging way Loueke melds African guitar traditions with jazz harmony. Loueke gets African-style rhythms going, tapping on his guitar and using his effects pedals. He sings and harmonizes with his own voice. With players who are also his dear friends — bassist Michael Olatuja and drummer Mark Guiliana — the Lionel Loueke Trio explores music from the 2012 album Heritage, produced by labelmate Robert Glasper.

Because of Hurricane Sandy-related travel disruptions, the band waited in Chicago for several days before traveling to the Kennedy Center Jazz Club in Washington, D.C., for this set. It was an ordeal, but worth the wait for JazzSet fans.

Lionel Loueke was born in Benin, West Africa, in 1973. As a youngster, he sang and played percussion, but didn’t really take up the guitar until the age of 17. Loueke was so gifted on the instrument that he was sent to study music at the Ivory Coast’s Institute of Art. He continued on to the American School of Modern Music in Paris, where he turned heads, and in 1999 came to America on scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Loueke was also accepted into the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance. There, he studied with jazz movers and shakers Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock, and began crafting his own artistic vision.

“I have two heritages: One is from my ancestors in Africa, and that goes through my music, my body, my soul,” Loueke says. “But I also have a heritage from the West, from Europe and the U.S. I’ve been blessed by all different parts of the world, and my songs reflect that.”

Loueke often opens his songs with his voice expanded in harmony, as he plays a single line on his guitar and then fans out from that. Everything is part of a curve. The music grows, as the band revels in itself and then slims back down. No hurry.

Set List
  • “Ife”
  • “Hope”
  • “Farafina”
  • “Bayyinah” (Glasper)
  • Lionel Loueke, guitar and vocals
  • Michael Olatuja, bass
  • Mark Guiliana, drums

Recording by Greg Hartman of the Kennedy Center, Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.

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