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Lionel Loueke: Karibu

Mark F. Turner By

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With an emotive sound that is rooted in his homeland of Benin, Africa, guitarist Lionel Loueke is having a positive impact on the current jazz environment. His Blue Note debut, Karibu (from a Swahili word meaning "welcome"), is an appropriate invitation to his unique appeal which includes virtuoso guitar playing and vocals in his native language.

Loueke has already produced noteworthy recordings—Virgin Forest (Obliqsound, 2007), and brightened the recordings of up and coming artists such as singer Gretchen Parlato, saxophonist Walter Smith III and flamenco percussionist Nacho Arimany— Silence-Light (Fresh Sound, 2007). He also played a significant role in the recordings of trumpeter Terence Blanchard— Bounce (2003) and Flow (2005), also on Blue Note records.

Karibu spotlights Loueke with longtime musicians, drummer Ferenc Nemeth from Hungary and Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati, who together form the trio: Gilfema (Obliqsound, 2005). Their simpatico relationship is understood when listening to the title track, an infectious number that is filled with improvisation and West African dance.

Distinct lyricism is found in Loueke's retelling of the 1940s hit "Skylark" by songwriters Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. The music of Africa bookends the famous tune, as the trio explores the melody producing music that is recognizable yet original. "Zala" is another piece; Loueke delivers new world scatting—delightful solo/vocalizations—while Nemeth and Biolcatti not only add support, but also their voices/instruments to the animated and visceral music.

Two very special guests, jazz legends pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (also Loueke's mentors), contribute on three tracks. Hancock adds some freestyle pianism to "Seven Teens," while Shorter's acerbic soprano adds the right atmosphere to an exceptional interpretation of John Coltrane's classic ballad, "Naima." But their most dynamic moments occur when they are together with the trio, on the ten-minute abstract improvisation "Light Dark." A repeating funk riff on "Agbannon Blues" is followed by the delightful "Nonvignon," an African dance groove, where the trio celebrates with Loueke's vocals and stellar picking, closing the inspiring set.

Karibu is a new chapter for Loueke, an oustanding artist whose music would transcend boundaries and reconcile differences.

Track Listing: Karibu; Seven Trees; Skylark; Zala; Naima; Benny's Tune; Light Dark; Agbannon; Blues; Nonvignon.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Massimo Biolcati: bass; Ferenc Nemeth: drums; Herbie Hancock: piano; Wayne Shorter: soprano saxophone.

Title: Karibu | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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