It would have been easy to leave well enough alone. Kevin Hays and Lionel Loueke made a delightful recording the first time arounda most happy clash of hemispheres blending urban jazz and world-folk balladry, crossing upbeat piano with lively scat- singing, frisky African rhythm play and much more. Nonetheless, a slot with Edition Records offered them a chance to revisit the work and give it a wider release than its 2017 initial vinyl pressing on the Newvelle Records subscription label. Let's be happy that circumstances allowed for it: the remastered and expanded Hope is better, brighter and more available to any listener in the mood for a nice ray of sunshine.
There is enough sound here that it hardly seems like just two instruments and two voices. Hays alone is busy enough to fill the sound when traipsing around the piano keys, jiggering offbeat lines with catchily staggered grooves worthy of Elvin Jones. Loueke does much the same with flowing lines of clean-toned Afro-guitar, but that's only one part of it. He's almost always adding more colors somewhere, be it frisky hand and vocal percussion or an occasional lead vocal right from the soul. Both express a contagious warmth through their instruments, regardless of what musical mode they're in. With the title track they slow down to spin a thoughtful and optimistic daydream; next thing they're coasting in bop-jazz territory with a dash of sly funk underneath.
The lovely story ballad "Feuilles-O" is one highlight, with Hays' soulful Creole delivery squarely featuring the hopeful side of the theme; the devilishly danceable romps of "Violeta" and "Ghana Boy" do the same at the other end of the liveliness scale. The newly-added tracks include Hope's (perhaps) most joyful moment with the closing "Sweet Caroline"not the Neil Diamond tune, wicked as that would doubtless have been, but a rumbling piece of soul-blues which exuberantly bounces toward a smoky close. Even without picking favorites, though, there isn't a weak track or subpar performance to be heard. Hays and Loueke make it a wonderfully multifaceted corker from start to finish.
Track Listing: Violeta; Hope; Aziza; Feuilles-O; Milton; Twins; Veuve Malienne; All I Have; Ghana Boy; Loving You; Sweet Caroline.
Personnel: Kevin Hays: piano, voice; Lionel Loueke: guitar, voice.
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