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Lionel Loueke: Heritage

Franz A. Matzner By

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Lionel Loueke's Heritage deftly intertwines modern jazz constructs with traditional African themes in a highly personal exploration of these two cultural streams which define Loueke's upbringing and musical identity. The result is a gracious, elevating and welcoming sound that still challenges preconceived notions.

Thoughtfully composed, the album's ten pieces together present an intimate—sometimes philosophical—complex musical meditation on the concept of heritage. Tunes like "Ouidah," inspired by the village where Loueke's mother was born and a center of the slave trade, find their origins in the concrete. Others, like the off-kilter "Farafina" and the introspective "Chardon" are more impressionistic in nature. Pieces likes "African Ship" are more conceptual. All, however, reflect balanced compositional skill and expert delivery.

The most essential aspect of Heritage's success, however, is Loueke's wisdom as a bandleader in bringing together players from different contexts and allowing those perspectives to interact and evolve together over the course of both the individual tunes and the album as a whole.

Fulfilling his reputation for melodic perceptiveness and a temperate style, Loueke infuses Heritage with an easy gracefulness, while simultaneously venturing into some unexpected territory with his use of electric guitars. Tapping his West African musical lineage, Loueke's intricate, lilting guitar sounds almost kora-like at times. At other moments he displays artful bursts of cutting edge jazz technique. Most fascinating is his fusion of these two threads. Robert Glasper, who has played with Loueke before, contributes his unique voice on piano and Fender Rhodes, as well as composing two of the album's pieces.

No drummer playing today has carved out a more distinctly modern or personal style than Mark Guiliana, and his presence on Heritage underscores his ability to apply that style to many settings. Guiliana's ultra-modern playing finds its wellspring in electronica as much as traditional jazz. Set against Loueke's gentler, more languid lines, his rapid-fire delivery and ever-shifting, fractured patterns help establish a welcome artistic tension that is one of the hallmarks of the album. Equally important to the dynamic is Derrick Hodge's excellent work on electric bass, which both anchors the album's more sober pieces with subtlety and reinforces Guiliana's rhythmic drive. Finally, singer Gretchen Parlato's appearances add yet another layer to the album's richly textured sound.

Dissertations could—and have—been written on jazz's African roots and the many ways its musical elements have been employed over the course of the music's history. Nor is there a shortage of musicians from around the globe actively pursuing this continued integration, exploration, and expansion. What makes Heritage stand out is the natural intimacy of its approach and the organic delivery by a cadre of musicians whose youth, unique talents, and diverse backgrounds place them at the crossroads of today's music.

Track Listing: Ife; Ouidah; Tribal Dance; Hope; Freedom Dance; Chardon; Farafina; African Ship; Goree; Bayyinah.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: acoustic and electric guitar; Robert Glasper: piano, Fender Rhodes; Derrick Hodge: electric bass; Mark Guiliana: drums; Gretchen Parlato: voice (3, 4).

Title: Heritage | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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