Guitarist/singer Lionel Loueke's Virgin Forest blends West African rhythms with standard jazz idioms, boiling down the music to its soul-catching essentials. Loueke sings and scats in Fon and Mina, languages from Benin and Mali, and his vocals and guitar playing are so seductive that one doesn't need to understand either to be drawn in.
Even songs whose titles suggest minimal circumstances"Kponnon Kpété (A Plastic Bag and 25 Cents) and "Madjigua (Wishing For Money)burst with joy and energy, enhanced by Gretchen Parlato's airy supporting vocals, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, members of Loueke's trio Gilfema. Loueke emulates one of his idols, George Benson, on the spirited "Abominwé. Loueke also thrives on improvisation, teaming up with Herbie Hancock on "Le Reveille des Agneaux, a guitar/piano duo based on Loueke's wordless but hypnotic vocalizing, and "La Poursuite du Lion.
Another improv with percussionist Cyro Baptista, "Danse des Animaux, has a strong link to the blues (think of Jimi Hendrix's "Hear My Train A' Comin' ). Yet another improv, "Dispute des Loups is a playful duet between Loueke and harmonica player Grégoire Maret, like two birds playing tag. Loueke gives Terence Blanchard's "Benny's Tune a splendid world music makeover and the title cut is a wonderful funk/fusion excursion complete with driving percussion, wah-wah pedal, potent bass and Parlato's passionate vocals.
It's sobering to know that certain types of music can face extinction like a species of wildlife or a dwindling natural resource. Loueke has expressed concern that the indigenous rhythms of Benin are starting to disappear so with the help of percussion ensembles led by the Raimi and Tessi Brothers, Loueke seeks to preserve them on Virgin Forest. In his efforts to preserve this music, Loueke is like a griot, a venerable figure in West African culture who preserves the history and oral tradition of a family or village. With this excellent album, one looks forward to the many stories Loueke has yet to tell.
Track Listing: Prelude to Rossignol; Rossignol; Prelude to Vivi; Vivi; Kponnon Kp