Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lionel Loueke Heritage Blue Note 2012

I have to admit I have been a bit tough on Blue Note for straying from the more traditional path the label was founded on. In interviewing vibraphonist Dave Shank and piano/organ wizard Mike LeDonne my concern was reaffirmed by similar comments from both individuals but the sad fact is that jazz just like any other genre of music is a business. Units sold = paying the rent.   For as hard as I have been on Blue Note, Lionel Loueke makes it all worth while. Loueke is one of the hottest tickets both as a solo performer and first call session player as you will find. Be it as a vocalist or as a guitarist, Loueke has firmly established an artistic foothold on the more contemporary beachhead that is Blue Note records while giving up nothing in terms of artistic integrity. Loueke's path is the road less traveled and a daunting task to be sure.

 Heritage opens with a more electric approach while maintaining an eclectic all most organic feel to music that is far from the typical acoustic approach previously attempted. Loueke strips down his sound even further by utilizing a trio format with co-producer Robert Glasper making the odd appearance on a track or two. A more free form improvisation is allowed to take flight on the tune "Hope" which is a joint collaboration between Glasper and Loueke and sets the stage for a release that while highly accessible is deceptively complex in structure and harmonic development. Loueke's pairing with Gretchen Parlato is a pure stroke of musical genius adding tremendous depth and character, an additional sonic layer of texture that keeps well within the zen like approach of less is more or as John Coltrane has been quoted, "listen to the notes I don't play." The Robert Glasper tune "Tribal Dance" has Glasper's fingerprints all over it with seemingly very little of Loueke's influence or input. While that may be conjecture on my part the tune seems slightly out of place however the overall strength of the release is such that minimal if any harm is done. Conversely, "African Ship" is a shorter tune accentuated with a syncopated punch of flavor that welcomes the listener to the land of rhythm and groove and more than stands out as a premier track on the release.   The trio and 4tet with the occasional addition of Glasper bleeds chemistry and cohesiveness and combines the spirit of lyrical intensity with a more free form improvisational concept to allow this release to develop a unique sonic pulse. There have been other releases that attempt a hybrid between the more contemporary and the more traditional with many simply dying a self indulgent death in post production. Heritage is a fresh look at the possibilities of where contemporary jazz can blaze a new trail and is as solid a release as they come.  

There has been a tremendous amount of good buzz on Lionel Loueke as of late. Ever see a movie trailer on television only to find out that thirty seconds of film was in fact the only redeeming portion of the film worth watching? If you have the ability to sample this work then you are only scratching the surface of one of the years best recordings.
Heed the buzz!

5 very easy stars and to both Loueke and Blue Note on a job well done!
Tracks: Ife; Ouidah; Tribal Dance; Hope; Freedom Dance; Chardon; Farafina; African Ship; Goree; Bayyinah.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: acoustic and electric guitar; Robert Glasper: piano, Fender Rhodes; Derrick Hodge: electric bass; Mark Guiliana: drums; Gretchen Parlato: voice (3, 4).