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Revisiting and Reinventing: Lionel Loueke and Portico Quartet


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Rearrangements and self-remixes can have a checkered story, yet sometimes the right treatment can give something just as much of a fascinating life the second time around.

Lionel Loueke (with Gilles Peterson)
HH Reimagined
Edition Records

Reinvention is one of Lionel Loueke's specialties already—from solo or duo works to the Afro-jazz trio Gilfema, his voice (figurative and literal) transforms any source songs with frisky rhythm and joyous flavor. Guitar and loops were all he needed on 2020's HH (Edition), giving a thoughtful treatment to some choice classics he'd been playing on the road for years with Herbie Hancock.

Where that unaccompanied recording made a warmly personable and exploratory tribute to Loueke's mentor/colleague/friend, HH Reimagined drags a handful of those tracks through the electronic wringer and straight into some kind of indie rave basement. Savvy mixer Gilles Peterson creates a bed of junkyard beats with chittering crackles and overdriven thuds, often leaving Loueke's own seven-string as lurking (yet important) background coloring. Some of Hancock's oldest-school hard-bop standards become avant-garde rave-ups punctuated by stray vocal samples in timeless underground tradition.

"Butterfly" morphs into a piece of street-savvy drum-n-bass. "Watermelon Man" keeps a tinge of its famous funk makeover from Headhunters (Columbia, 1973), underlaid with rapid glitch clicks and loud distortion that never would have been imagined in the '70s. Most expressive is "Tell Me a Bedtime Story," which drifts from abstract sound-without-notes to rhythmic junglescape before Loueke's original track gradually eases onto center stage in something resembling an actual lullaby. If HH Reimagined sometimes makes it tricky even to spot recognizable traces of Hancock's original songs in the mix, he'd surely still approve of what they've become—Loueke's evocation of the master's exploratory spirit couldn't be more authentic.

Portico Quartet Ensemble
Terrain (Extended)
Gondwana Records

As a product of isolation at the very beginning of the COVID age, Terrain (Gondwana, 2021) was a sparse work inevitably shaped by absence and empty spaces. Interestingly enough, Portico Quartet kept that feel just as vivid when they eventually managed a live session with a specially expanded ensemble in late 2021. Terrain (Extended) gives the album-length piece another level of detail and organic warmth, and yet still presents its figurative landscape as quiet and spacious as ever.

The addition of a string quartet doesn't re-shape the piece but rather deepens the colors and textures. While airy synth and patiently drawn-out sax float over Keir Vine's mantric hang-drum patterns, the quartet weaves long drones that slowly drift between harmonious and unsettling. They continue chiming as a single organism while the drums bring things to a hypnotic simmer, then lock in for a slow-burning and spine-tingling finish. It's easy to hear why the band considers this session the fulfillment of Terrain's potential: this performance has all the eeriness and mystery with a new layer of human connection underneath.

Tracks and Personnel

HH Reimagined

Tracks: One Finger Snap; Watermelon Man; Driftin'; Hang Up Your Hang Ups; Tell Me a Bedtime Story; Butterfly.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Gilles Peterson and Alex Patchwork: production.

Terrain (Extended)

Tracks: I; II; III.

Personnel: Duncan Bellamy: drum set, MPC1000 sampler; Jack Wyllie: saxophone, prepared piano; Taz Modi: Prophet 08, Juno 60, bass guitar; Keir Vine: hang drums, piano; Simmy Singh: violin; Joy Becker: violin; Laura Senior: violin; Rachel Shakespeare: cello.

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