Three short seasons and fifteen releases into Newvelle Records' vinyl subscription service, guitarist Lionel Loueke
is the first artist to be featured a second time as a leader/co-leader. The Benin-born Loueke holds a Jazz Performance degree from Berklee and has played with many top artists including his mentor Herbie Hancock
, George Garzone
, Wayne Shorter
, Charlie Haden
and John Patitucci
. In 2017 he shared credits with pianist Kevin Hays
on the label's sophisticated Hope
and he returns to lead a trio on Close Your Eyes
Joined by bassist Reuben Rogers
and drummer Eric Harland
, Loueke takes on a program of very familiar standardsnew territory for an artist whose solo career had been dominated by electric-guitar explorations of African rock and jazz. Harland is best known for his seven ECM and Blue Note releases with Charles Lloyd
and an equal number with the SFJAZZ Collective
. The percussionist and Loueke worked together in the Dave Holland
/ Chris Potter
-led Aziza quartet. Rogers is linked to Harland through his presence on five common Lloyd albums and notably, replaced bassist Thomas Morgan
in the Tomasz Stanko
New York Quartet on December Avenue
The trio opens Side A with an innovative approach and odd timing on Shorter's "Footprints." Loueke follows with two duo performances, Rodgers & Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "Moon River," guitar with bass and drums respectively, only the latter of the two holding relatively true to the original. Even here, Harland's peculiar accents add a different and updated flavor. As the trio returns for the Miles Davis
-attributed "Solar," so too does a dialog that is more animated and stylized. The trio lends a bit more personal authority to their treatment of "Blue Monk," the B-side opener and, if there is any doubt regarding Loueke's ability to brand a classic, "Body and Soul" and "Naima" will put the notion to rest.
For the most part the standards chosen by Loueke wouldn't be a compelling enticement after being covered and manipulated by scores of artists, but the guitarist has a quirky and surprising touch that would make even the most threadbare composition seem current. Equally idiosyncraticwhen warrantedRogers and Harland add charming inflections throughout these pieces, keeping the ears on alert for this superb rhythm section. Here, in an unexpected package, Close Your Eyes
pushes further into Newvelle's improvisational and multifaceted accounting of classics.
Side A: Footprints; It Might As Well Be Spring; Moon River; Solar. Side B: Blue Monk; Body and Soul; Close Your Eyes; Naima.
Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Reuben Rogers: acoustic bass; Eric Harland: drums.