Half Notes: Lionel Loueke – Mwaliko (2010)

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Like Bill Frisell, Loueke is one of those instantly recognizable guitarists. But when I hear Loueke, I think of Bobby McFerrin before I think of any other guitar player. His ability to cover the treble, bass and midrange simultaneously perfectly throughout some densely syncopated rhythms is breathtaking like when McFerrin does that with his voice. Moreover, Loueke has grafted the advance bop stylings of Pat Martino to the West African sensibilities of his homeland so completely, the hybrid becomes one of the most singular electric guitar styles to emerge since, well, Frisell. Mwaliko ends up being a great showcase for his talents, because he limits the formats to dues and trios, keeping the focus on his multi-dimensional guitar and accompanying vocals. He found a somewhat unlikely musical soul mate in Esperanza Spalding, who is just as adept at scatting around her bass and Loueke does his guitar (“Twins,” “Flying”), and when they are both doing that together, it results in rapport that is special. Sometimes, Loueke brings in members of his Gilfema trio, who play so well as a unit; the African fusion “Griot” and the more straight ahead “L.L.” both make that case convincingly. The version of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” is one of the more original I’ve heard in a while; Loueke, backed only by drummer Marcus Gilmore, invents his own short chord progression and tactfully inserts the melody of Shorter’s song into it. Lean, angular and resolutely rooted in two continents (North America and Africa) from beginning to end, Lionel Loueke makes more with less on Mwaliko.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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