Lionel Loueke GAÏA (Blue Note)

 

 

From folksy West African roots tunes to deconstructions of “Nefertiti” and “Naima,” Lionel Loueke has showed us various sides of his personality since he started making albums in 2001. Most of the time the Benin-born guitar virtuoso blends an ultra-rhythmic approach with the kind of lyricism that allows for both informal poetics and chattering flash. On his fourth album for Blue Note, he throws aggression into the mix and lets a fierce attack have its way. Because it’s a live (in the studio) recording, his deeply connected trio generates an immediacy that should be the envy of working bands everywhere.

Whether giving buoyancy to a fusion-tinged roar, as they do in “Even Teens” or lacing a harmolodic sensibility through a syncopated groove in the title cut, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth remind that they’re radiant foils for their esteemed mate. The ardor explodes on “Wacko Loco,” a gnarled fiesta that hitches a Mahavishnu vibe with the swampy eloquence of Blood Ulmer’s Odyssey trio. Along the way, the beat becomes paramount. A plucked guitar string works as a hand drum, a bass riff percolates and pops. Melodies dash by, but they’re usually bolstered by an offensive tack, the band pummeling most of its musical elements a la John Scofield’s unit circa Shinola “Aziza Dance” banks on grace, but it, like the Crazy Horse-slanted “Procession,” winds up throwing punches.

To some degree that may be part of Loueke’s thesis. The earth goddess of the record’s title surely feels the way we’ve maimed her Eden of late, and in the disc’s press materials, the guitarist mentions that she’s likely “angry” about it. Who knows whether he’s paralleling her displeasure or defending her against assailants, but except in a few spots – most notably “Rain Wash” and “Forgiveness” – he’s definitely ready to put up a fight.

 

DownBeat

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