“Heritage” (Blue Note)
Up to this point, Lionel Loueke’s recording career has suggested a disarming marriage of the expansive and the insular. A guitarist and vocalist from Benin, Mr. Loueke has a style born of synthesis: he came into his own by absorbing multiple strains of West African and Brazilian music, along with decades of modern jazz. So openness and curiosity have nourished him, but his track record as an artist suggests a firm, unaffected identity, something already well honed and largely self-contained.
His potent new album, “Heritage,” underscores that impression, even as it changes the context around him. Unlike Mr. Loueke’s first three albums as a leader — each of which, to one degree or another, featured the deft and fluttery rapport of an acoustic trio also known, collectively, as Gilfema — this one revels in the heavy influence that funk and Afrobeat have had on him. It has a punchy drum sound, woozy electric bass and guitar work that toggles between sharp and slithery. Mr. Loueke has switched from nylon to steel strings, and he leans more on his effects pedals, while subtly toning down the vocalizing that gives his music some of its folkloric suppleness.
“Heritage” was mainly produced by Robert Glasper, who plays piano on more than half the album and composed two of its tracks. The rhythm team throughout consists of the alert and soulful bassist Derrick Hodge and the agile, emphatic drummer Mark Guiliana. Occasionally there’s an unassuming guest contribution from the singer Gretchen Parlato.
All together, it’s a lineup made for mutual admiration, with a lot of overlapping history. (Mr. Loueke appears with all of the above, except Ms. Parlato, at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village from Sept. 4 to 6; bluenote.com.)
What sharpens the picture is the writing, which skews refreshingly songlike, girded with sophisticated but intuitive harmony. The first three tracks, “Ifê,” “Ouidah” and “Tribal Dance,” offer a familiar but engaging tour through Mr. Loueke’s Wayne Shorter-esque jazz ideal, full of drifting chord movement and worldly inflections. Hardier approaches to rhythm arrive with “Freedom Dance,” an airtight Afrobeat jam; “Farafina,” a tangle of stuttering funk; and “Goree,” a breakbeat showcase for Mr. Guiliana.
It’s a variable feast, light-handed about its cultural implications — several song titles, including “Ouidah” and “Goree,” refer to the Atlantic slave trade, a close historical reality in Benin — but invested in emotional connection. Mr. Loueke has never had a problem conveying warmth, but his expressive gifts have rarely been marshaled as smartly as they are here, on an album that upholds groove as the ultimate truth. NATE CHINENBack to main page