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Lionel Loueke Karibu Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A greater dynamism compared with the too-relaxed trio outings.

Martin Longley 2008

Guitarist Lionel Loueke manages to tempt two of his mentors into guest appearances on this Blue Note label debut. This is no trivial feat given that they are Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. A third mentor, Terence Blanchard, is not present, however, but these two will suffice, given that they're not exactly known for their sideman activities. To many folks, Loueke will have first surfaced as a Hancock band member.

One of Lionel's key techniques is to shadow his supple guitar lines with high, wordless vocals. Or should that be vice versa? Unfortunately, he uses this trick on nearly all of his compositions, along with a further trait of clucking or clicking his tongue to underline with percussive punctuations. This approach can become quite tiresome over the course of an entire disc.

The album's title is the Swahili word for 'welcome'. Loueke has earned his position as a world citizen. He was born in Benin, then began an odyssey of studying in Côte d'Ivoire, where he started playing professionally. He subsequently continued his jazzing specialisation in Paris, moving there in 1994, followed by spells in Boston (where he won a scholarship to Berklee) and Los Angeles. It was at Berklee where Loueke met his long-term bandmates. Most of the pieces revolve around this core trio, with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth ensconced as playing partners for the last eight years.

Comparisons can be made between Loueke and Richard Bona, this Cameroonian also coupling voice and high-bass guitar, playing in the mellow Afro-jazzy manner. Loueke possesses a gently cascading quality that's akin to the silken lightness proffered by Pat Metheny. The version of John Coltrane's Naima opens with electronic quietness, tongue-clicks mixing with string-strikes, opening up into kora-chords, as Loueke mimics the West African harp-lute sound. Lionel sounds like he's playing an acoustic guitar on most of these tracks, but invariably feeding it through a bank of subtle effects.

Hancock and Shorter appear on two tracks apiece, and their presence tends to add a much-needed tension, to the point where they can't help dominating the three tunes in question (they're both on board for the stand-out Light Dark): Herbie lends a percussive force to his piano outpourings, and Wayne's quicksilver soprano saxophone phrases spout forth without pause. These tracks have a greater dynamism compared with the too-relaxed trio outings.

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