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Jazz - Released January 1, 2012 | Blue Note Records

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Jazz - Released September 28, 2018 | Aparté

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Jazz - Released October 30, 2015 | Blue Note (BLU)

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2010 | Blue Note Records

Mwaliko is West African guitarist Lionel Loueke's second album for Blue Note. Originally planned as a series of duets, it ultimately became one of duets and trios, in order to to showcase the collective talents of Gilfema, his touring band with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth. The trio cuts are at the heart of Loueke’s modern culture-blurring sound. The interplay of Gilfema offers simultaneous harmonic and rhythmic improvisation; Loueke's guitar is as much a part of the rhythm section as it is a melodic lead. The lockstep changes are immediate, instinctive, and seamless, as in “Griot.” Loueke uses his singing voice -- without its other trademark effects of clicking, popping, wet snaps, rapid-fire speech, and solo doubling, etc. The melody is a chant, and establishes a groove that opens a door to improvisation. All three cuts by Gilfema offer straight-ahead jazz fans something to grab onto. The duets, however, add immeasurably to his depth. Loueke and Angélique Kidjo -- whose mothers were friends in Benin -- offer a popping, funky version of “Amio,” a West African anthem written by Ebanda Manfred. Loueke's guitar and vocal effects are a virtual rhythm section with melodic flourishes as Kidjo scats, chants, flits, and soars over them. They also team on the traditional “Vi Ma Yon.” Loueke pairs with Cameroonian bassist and vocalist Richard Bona on “Wishes” and the album closer “Hide Life” (a word and musical game on the West African style highlife). The former is a beautiful, atmospheric ballad, the latter sprightly and playful. Esperanza Spalding's bass makes an excellent counterpart on “Twins,” where she uses her voice in as many ways as he does, and on the jazzier “Flying,” where she trills, slips, and doubles her bassline vocally, just he does on guitar. Drummer Marcus Gilmore is enlisted in an electrifying modern, knotty reading of Wayne Shorter's “Nefertiti.” Mwaliko is an excellent step forward for Loueke, who is quickly proving to be an innovative force in 21st century jazz. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released May 8, 2020 | Aparté

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Jazz - Released October 25, 2005 | Space Time Records

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Jazz - Released February 10, 2017 | Edition Records

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Jazz - Released October 30, 2015 | Blue Note (BLU)

Gaïa finds West African guitarist Lionel Loueke reunited with his longstanding trio of bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth for the first time since 2010's Mwaliko. It was produced by Blue Note label boss Don Was and cut live in the studio -- sans overdubs -- in front of a small invited audience. The sonics are a tad more brittle, but they add to the crackling energy on offer. First single "Aziza Dance" is funky as hell; the guitarist vamps up a storm and Nemeth drops a ton of breaks amid snare-driven syncopation. Biolcati follows the knotty melody while dropping tough grooves into his fills. "Broken" is one of several tracks where Loueke employs an array of digital effects -- here he simultaneously evokes a blues harmonica and an analog synth. The almost fusion-like track is full of quick stops and starts, unusual cadences, and dissonant angles with dazzling fretwork by the guitarist. In "Veuve Malienne," those effects take on a different hue. In a breezy, late-night funk number, Loueke's guitar sounds like a melodica. When paired with the deep, woody tone of Biolcati's melodic bassline, the sound is elegant, silky. But Nemeth offers a chunky, taut swing in the pocket to maintain an edge. Loueke shows his affinity for rock here too, in the hard-vamping, crescendo-laden choruses on "Sleepless Night," the aggressive riffing in "Wacko Loco," and the spiky blues jamming in "Procession." In the title track, the guitarist shines with finger-popping arpeggios and gritty chord voicings. Nemeth's skittering snare and hi-hat breaks ride atop a taut, bumping bassline to create funky jazz at its best. The intro to "Eventeens" showcases Loueke's athleticism on the strings. He employs his pedals and switches, but it's his finger-slapping technique that impresses most. The set closer is an unlikely -- yet lovely -- cover of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love." Played through the prism of Beninese pop and the harmonic invention of jazz, it's far from a lightweight finish, even if it is a graceful one. These trio members need no collaborators, extra production, or overdubs; they can -- and do -- deliver almost endless variations on all the stylistic genres they choose. The kinetic energy and obvious delight expressed by these players in such intimate and idea-rich conversation make Gaïa Loueke's most satisfying release to date. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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World - Released August 3, 2018 | Aparté

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2007 | Blue Note Records

Booklet
Karibu is West African guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke's debut album for the Blue Note label, and his fourth overall. Loueke is best known to America's audiences as a sideman in Herbie Hancock's quartet, and for his stellar 2006 offering Virgin Forest on the wonderful ObliqSound imprint. Fans of Richard Bona's breezy blend of high string bass and wordless vocalizing will have a frame of reference at least in feel for Loueke's music, though the men are very different. On Karibu (Swahili for "welcome"), Loueke is joined by his longtime bandmates Ferenc Nemeth (drums/percussion) and Massimo Biolcati (bass), and by his former and future boss Hancock, and another musical mentor, Wayne Shorter, on a pair of cuts each, with one of them in common. Loueke's guitar playing comes off as sounding completely acoustic sometimes, as on the reading of John Coltrane's "Naima," like a griot's kora. The simple truth, however, is that he puts his instrument through a load of effects to get this sound. Loueke's wordless vocals and tongue-clicking are as much a part of his sound as his guitar playing and compositions. They add to the music a percussive effect and are often in counterpart to the rhythmic intent of Nemeth. The problem is, that the slick, under warm water production by Eli Wolf to make this music so accessible to American audiences can make some of these tunes feel as if they go by in a blur, and that have fewer dynamics than they do. The best moments here are where the band is expanded beyond the trio. On "Seven Teens," Hancock adds knotty, forceful, and percussive left-hand runs and accents the counterpoint in Loueke's melody. On "Naima," it's the hand drums and spatial effects -- and Loueke's mouth effects -- on the pronounced yet utterly subtle intro with the beautiful and haunting strings under the guitar's bridge that offer a few moments of dislocation to the tune. When Biolcati's bass announces the line and Shorter's soprano comes in on the actual line, Loueke is a able to use that "kora-like" sound to make the melody something wholly other without it being lost in the modal interplay between the two frontmen. Shorter, as one might expect, is in excellent form here. This is an excellent version of the song. Hancock and Shorter play together on the album's highlight, "Light and Dark." It too begins quietly, pensively even, but as the other players join Loueke it becomes an ambitious interchange between the contrasts mentioned in the title, and a full-on engagement of a band both articulating a complex melody as well as exploring the even more strident and ambitious harmonics that become possible during improvisation. Given its ten-minute length, it takes some time moving into gear, but when it does it begins to lope and run. This is followed by a funkier, more groove-conscious number, "Agbannon Blues," where Nemeth gets a chance to lay in his breakbeat chops, and the bass and drum strut offer Loueke the opportunity to use everyone from Wes Montgomery to Pat Metheny as signposts in both composition and solo. Make no mistake: Karibu has its flaws, but after hearing Loueke's previous works, they don't seem to lie with him. The sound of this record is more the issue. Blue Note has a habit in the 21st century of rounding off as many edges as possible with artists they are trying to break, and this Wolf production is no exception. The music is gorgeous, the feel of most of these tunes, with their breezy ethereal airs, will delight most and be among the most refreshing things they hear in 2008. That said, this is not as strong an effort as Virgin Forest, and there is no use pretending it is. Check this out to be sure, because Loueke's an original voice on the guitar, not to mention as a composer; but then dial up a site that has Virgin Forest and compare the two. Karibu is easily the safer of the two. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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World - Released January 1, 2005 | Lionel Loueke

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World - Released November 15, 2005 | Lionel Loueke

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Bebop - Released January 1, 2001 | Lionel Loueke

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Jazz - Released March 13, 2012 | Obliqsound

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Jazz - Released March 13, 2012 | Obliqsound

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Jazz - Released February 6, 2017 | Edition Records

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Jazz - Released January 30, 2017 | Edition Records

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Jazz - Released January 20, 2017 | Edition Records

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Jazz - Released January 10, 2017 | Edition Records

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