Hulk Hogan? Harry Houdini? Hugh Hefner? As tempting as it is to imagine Lionel Loueke cheerily following some absurdist impulse, the HH of the title instead honors Herbie Hancocka long-time mentor and source of inspiration to the Benin-born guitarist. A jurist on the audition panel who selected Loueke for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, Hancock thereafter called upon Loueke's six-string services on Possibilities (Hear Music, 2005), River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007) and The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock Music, 2010). A regular in the keyboard legend's live bands, Loueke is therefore well placed to reinterpret Hancock's music, which he does here in his inimitable style.
Loueke visits eleven Hancock originals from 1962 to 1983, arguably Hancock's most creative period, when he skipped from post-bop and hard-bop to soul-influenced jazz, jazz-funk and electro-funk/instrumental hip-hop. Loueke's stripped-down voice-and-guitar approachwith loops adding textures and depth taps into the music's common ground, that's to say, pronounced melody, lyricism, and harmonic sophistication. Hancock's signature tunes "Cantaloupe Island" and "Watermelon Man"a huge hit for Mongo Santamariaare perhaps easy targets, reworked here as slow-funk workouts. The former is a little ho-hum, but on the latter, Loueke's kora-influenced improvisations and clucking percussive groove work their magic, making the familiar sound fresh.
Overdubbing occasionally lends a small ensemble feel to proceedings, but Loueke's ability to simultaneously juggle bass lines and rhythm guitar patterns, tapped percussion and lead embellishmentsor any combination thereoffrequently accompanied by his smoke-'n'-honey-toned vocaleserenders such studio manipulation largely unnecessary. That said, the ethereal whammy and twinkling looped notes that punctuate his soulful playing on the haunting "Tell Me A Bedtime Story," or the painterly electric countermelody on the lightly treading "Voyage Maiden"one of two self-penned compositionsadd affecting subtleties to otherwise skeletal arrangements. The other Loueke original, "Homage to HH" eschews such trappings, with Loueke playing and cooing softly from the heart in an especially tender offering.
There is pastoral elegance in Loueke's ravishing take on "Dolphin Dance," where his fleet fretwork interlaces melody, bass notes and seductive arpeggios; one of a couple of tunes where Loueke rests his vocalese , it is all the more striking for the restraint. The cantering groove of "Actual Proof" is the main nod to Hancock's jazz-funk original, which Loueke reimagines via a folksy African prism. "Butterfly," which takes as its starting and finishing point Hancock's beguiling melody, and the vaguely Brazilian "Come Running To Me" are rendered as silky duets between guitar and voice. Loueke takes some fascinating liberties with "Rockit" and revels in fuzz-toned virtuosity on an unapologetically modern version of "One Finger Snap"post-bop for the twenty-first century.
Homage to jazz greats is part of the idiom's codified language, but with this primarily acoustic set Loueke pays tribute in a way that Hancock would surely appreciate, by building on what has gone before. From lyricism of caressing tenderness, and danceable African funk to contemporary soundscapes, HH translates Hancock's music into a singular, engrossing hybrid that could only hail from LL.
Hang Up Your Hang Ups; Driftin’ Tell Me A Bedtime Story; Actual Proof; Cantaloupe Island; Butterfly; Dolphin Dance; Watermelon Man; Come Running To Me; Voyage Maiden; Rockit; Speak Like A Child; Homage to HH; One Finger Snap.
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