Lionel Loueke | Mwaliko

Blue Note (2010)
By JON GARELICK  |  February 16, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars


Benin-born, Paris-and-Berklee-educated guitarist Loueke knows how to cover a lot of ground and make it all sound of a piece. A veteran of Herbie Hancock's band (Hancock and Wayne Shorter were high-profile guests on his 2008 Blue Note debut), he plays what you could call jazz with an Afropop accent. But that's not totally right either.

The leadoff track here is a duet between Loueke and clarion-voiced Afropop star (and home-town neighbor) Angélique Kidjo: "Ami O," by the Cameroonian songwriter Ebanda Manfred. It's pop, but both artists improvise fiercely, Kidjo scatting and Loueke complementing her with his full array of guitar sounds and clicking vocalisms.

There are equally lilting duo turns with bassists Richard Bona and Esperanza Spalding — in each case, bright-toned pop frameworks enclose a rich weave of darting bass, guitar, and voice lines. Shorter's "Nefertiti," meanwhile, is abstracted into its component rhythmic-melodic cells by Loueke and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Elsewhere, Loueke gets into his straightest jazz grooves with his regular trio mates, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth. Here's a jazz disc that's as accessible as it is uncompromising.

LIONEL LOUEKE | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | March 11 @ 7:30 pm [$22] + 10 pm [$20] | 617.395.7757

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