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Lionel Loueke: Close Your Eyes

Karl Ackermann By

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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 standards—new 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 (ECM, 2017).

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 idiosyncratic—when warranted—Rogers 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.

Track Listing: Side A: Footprints; It Might As Well Be Spring; Moon River; Solar. Side B: Blue Monk; Body and Soul; Close Your Eyes; Naima.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Reuben Rogers: acoustic bass; Eric Harland: drums.

Title: Close Your Eyes | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Newvelle Records

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