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Gilfema: Three

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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Few trios are as immediately recognizable as Gilfema. It's almost impossible to mistake the interplay between Ferenc Nemeth, Massimo Biolcati and Lionel Loueke. The three Berklee College of Music and Thelonious Monk institute graduates have been going at it together for more than 15 years now, their eponymous debut album having been released in 2005 for New York-based label Obliqsound. Between uneven meters, jazzy harmonies and afro-pop-infused rhythms and melodies, the three collaborators continue to express their individual musical visions with vigor and a unique sense of personality. With Three the band presents its third official installment as Gilfema and continues the unique blend of styles introduced over a decade ago.

Naturally, the initial impact of the unexpected and original music the trio creates has worn off since the release of their debut offering, whose quiet reflections within simple structures were contrasted by the intricate textures in Nemeth's playful polyrhythmic drumming and Loueke's unique jazz dialect and percussive thumb-fretwork. In an effort to continually explore their possibilities without completely changing direction, 2015's Gaïa (Blue Note) (even though credited to Loueke as a solo record, undoubtedly very much a Gilfema effort) saw the trio departing from its acoustic sound and instead experimenting with a more amplified approach. Loueke's multi-octavated guitar sound has become his signature trademark, proving a defining factor characterizing that session. While the pentatonic ostinato-based writing remained intact, the chordal distortion mixed with punchier drums and Biolcati switching to electronic bass shed a new light on the trio—sounding something like Jimi Hendrix delving head on into jazz while being drawn to afro-pop music.

On Three the trio reunites for 12 new self-penned takes along with Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing." The set works as a cross-section through the bands discography and combines the quiet percussive qualities of the group with more extroverted and electric improvisations in a fashion that only these three seem capable of creating.

The opener, "Têkê," has all the ingredients to which the the trio's audience has grown accustomed, and which the players excel at combining. The groups danceable rhythmic interplay hides the verse's 13/4 meter well, before the chorus sees it restructured with more pizzazz and minor-colored, while the octavated electric guitar overtakes the acoustic. Hendrix' classic blues takes it down a notch, demonstrating the fluent and soothing language with which Loueke and his rhythm section interact. Loueke's unparalleled ear for sophisticated melodic details in combination with inventive syncopations shines especially in these quieter settings.

Seeing how the album's release coincides with both Ferenc Nemeth's newest trio outing as a leader, Freedom (Dreamers Collective, 2020), and Biolcati's own date, Incontre (Sounderscore, 2020), featuring Dayna Stephens, it comes as no surprise that some of those albums' traits leave their mark on this affair as well.

The Nemeth-penned "Happiness" adds some of the drummer's personal fusion-flavor to the mix and picks up the pace with a straightforward snare-based pattern. Harmonic and melodic development remains minimal throughout, giving the bass the opportunity to lay down a fat and steady line to which the guitar squeals untameably in stereo via overdubs. Biolcati's knack for bluesy and funky backbeats shines through on "Algorythm and Blues"—penned in collaboration with Loueke. Essentially a whimsical blues deconstruction, the title builds on the strong rhythm section of irresistible shuffling on Nemeths part and attack-heavy basslines grounding the effect-layered guitar frenzies. "13th Floor To Heaven," another Biolcati/Loueke co- authorship, highlights the production's special sonic transparency and warmth, which can be attributed to Biolcati taking over the producer chair with sophistication and clear vision.

Another signature element characterizing Gilfema can be found in the occasional interjection of celebratory dances which give the band its light-hearted allure, embuing their sessions with Afro-Caribbean rhythmic drive. In that spirit "Brio" demonstrates Loueke's own virtuoso approach to the rumba-based soukous—a variety of dance music with its roots in Congo. "Fleuve Congo" follows suit but slows things down to a more laid-back pace. "Lê" and "Aflao" go in a similar direction rhythmically. The former tune sees Loueke adding vocals with a vocoder pedal layering his voice to a chorus effect, as prominently used on his past albums such as Mwaliko (Blue Note, 2012). With his voice comes an even more vibrant air of celebration.

While the sheer variety in style, technical prowess as well as undeniable chemistry between these three would be more than virtue enough for one album, this date's balladic exhibitions add yet another dimension to an already impressive set and find the players in their most emphatic and generous habitat. "Dear JL" presents soothing dynamics and pensive harmonic comping carrying wistful nostalgia outward, while "Left Undone" tackles the tight rhythmic intricacies through an undercurrent of percussive energy driving momentous lines out of bass and guitar. Melancholy prevails on "Requiem for a Soul," a couple-bars, one-motif and single-progression-based tune that the band savors whole-heartedly. It is with introverted takes like these that one is reminded most of the understated approach found on tracks like "Dream" or "Gebe Temin" off of their eponymous debut recording.

After the subtle "Until" comes to an end, there's very little left to do except to wait for the "next time." Like an epilogue, the closer recapitulates the music that preceded it but, through its open structure, refrains from drawing conclusions. The collection of songs on Three is as warm in sound as it is remarkable in execution.

Track Listing

Têkê; Little Wing; Lé; Happiness; 13th Floor to Heaven; Brio; Fleuve Congo; Algorythm and Blues; Dear J.L.; Aflao; Left Undone; Requiem For a Soul; Until.

Personnel

Lionel Loueke: guitar; Ferenc Nemeth: drums; Massimo Biolcati: bass.

Album information

Title: Three | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Sounderscore

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