Benin-native guitarist Lionel Loueke always seemed to make music with a distinctly different sonic palette from the rest of us. Much of that may have to do with his African roots, instilling in Loueke the kinds of tinkling arpeggios, clicks, and clacks that just aren’t common in the western world, yet it’s this special aural paint that makes his body of work so remarkable. Through the years, Loueke’s sound has harbored a bevy of collaborators (especially a constantly satisfying working rapport with vocalist Gretchen Parlato) and even more acclaim. It would seem only natural that his glitchy (in a vocal, almost Al Jarreau in his heyday kind of variety) sounds would sidle along nicely with the infectious philosophy of groove of pianist Robert Glasper. By their powers combined (along with bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Guiliana), they have released Heritage, out now on the Blue Note label (ahem, Amazon, ahem, iTunes).
If you could only name one attribute Glasper adds to Loueke’s sound, it would have to be infectiousness. There’s an ease to this music that is in large part due to Loueke’s simple, innate sense of rhythm but is intensified when added to Glasper’s production which has had a long track record of putting out listener-friendly bangers. The pair seem to make what could easily be considered inaccessible jazzy “world” music into catchy, memorable songs. Just try getting the Glasper composition “Tribal Dance” (featuring the aforementioned Gretchen Parlato adding a layer of her now iconic coos) out of your head after just half a play through. The mix from this core quartet of Loueke, Glasper, Hodge, and Guiliana makes you wonder why a match-up like this hasn’t happened before. The four work well together to weave a tapestry of sound wherein Loueke is able to add his own special flourishes to the embroidery. Mark Guiliana has many opportunities throughout Heritage to prove that he is incredible. Not hyperbole — Mark Guiliana is incredible. His prowess lacks credibility. A small, rhythmic tornado was actually released in the studio for the drum solos on “Ifê” and “Tribal Dance”. Four kits were destroyed. Memories were erased and only Blue Note head Don Was holds the secrets. Through it all, it’s bassist Derrick Hodge who holds steady throughout the mellifluous wreckage. These three really do work together perfectly and are accented even more when Glasper comes into play on six of the ten tracks on the album.
Another major reason why this is such a standout work for Loueke is his decision to go electric. The guitarist manages to adjust touches of electrical edge, seemingly making a razor sharp, tenuous tone while keeping his acoustic charm. In fact, for a man who already seems to work from a larger palette of choices, going electric merely seems to give Loueke more choices in his songs. This in combination with the arrangements of the songs (which are constructed to allow all players involved to lay sonic foundation for great songs but eases up on the interplay a little less than expected [likely to keep with Glasper's current tighter, groove-centric style of production as opposed to more open jazz-centric noodling]) makes for an engrossing album and likely the strongest that Loueke has released yet.
Essentially, Lionel Loueke’s Heritage may just be the sleeper hit of 2012. It is an album that gives credence to Loueke’s cultural background made entirely accessible for an occidental audience. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to and sure to be a highlight of this year. It’s definitely worth copping just to see the journey Loueke, Glasper, Hodge, Guiliana, and company will go.
Anthony Dean-HarrisBack to main page