On Heritage, Benin-born Lionel Loueke takes a more electric approach than on previous releases, which mostly featured his acoustic, nylon-string guitar. This change is immediately felt on the opening "Ifê," beginning with the muted notes of an acoustic steel-stringed guitar whose sound resembles a kalimba (thumb piano). Loueke is backed solely by his trio (rounded out by bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Guiliana) here, and plays a dexterous solo with the help of a pitch bender pedal.
Co-producer and pianist Robert Glasper joins him on various tunes, but the gentle "Hope" (co-written by Glasper and Loueke) is the first to stand out thanks to its simple structure that gives much opportunity for free improvisation. The wordless vocal duet between Loueke and Gretchen Parlato gives the tune a dream-like feel. Glasper's "Tribal Dance" has all of the pianist's trademarks, but also gives a lot of freedom for the musicians to improvise around the melody, while Loueke's highly syncopated "Farafina" has a more intricate structure that also gives much space for moments of brilliance from the bandleader and his trio.
Another notable track is "African Ship," a short syncopated tune that features Glasper's intricate piano grooves. Loueke adds various vocal effects as the pianist improvises freely around the melody. The chemistry between the two musicians is quite evident, and that can also be said about the other participants on the disc, especially on Glasper's "Bayyinah," featuring individual moments from all four band members and closing the disc with the same excitement as the first track.
Loueke and Glasper are among a handful of new voices bringing fresh sounds to contemporary jazz, and helping usher a whole new audience to the genre thanks to their creativity, technique and eagerness to break new ground. Heritage is a great example of this fresh new approach.
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