Welcome to the World

Karibu (Blue Note)
Lionel Loueke

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

Guitarist Lionel Loueke, originally from Benin on the west coast of Africa, has been gaining a reputation in the United States primarily through his work with Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard. He has graced albums such as Hancock's Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters and Blanchard's Flow.

Karibu, which means "welcome" in Swahili, marks his first major label American release as a leader. Loueke has been performing with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth for quite some time and their interplay on this CD reflects that. The title track opens the disc, with a sound that seems to effortlessly blend Brazilian and African influences.

Hancock adds his distinctive piano to the next piece "Seven Teens," so named for its time signature. Hoagy Carmichaels' "Skylark" is given a distinctive and fresh reading. "Zala" sounds like a village meeting with jazz accompaniment. John Coltrane's classic ballad "Naima" begins with an Afro-pop riff, before the melody drifts in and the trio is joined by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who all but steals the show.

"Benny's Tune" is a subtle piece, which emphasizes Loueke's voice and guitar. "Light Dark" features both Hancock and Shorter in a more freeform setting. "Agbannon Blues" and "Nonvignon" close this recording with an earthy feel.

The musicality of the players is of such a high level that even when they play in unusual time signatures, the emphasis is still on the feel of the music rather than on virtuosity for its own sake. Loueke has created a recording which should appeal to fans of mainstream jazz guitar as well as to music lovers who enjoy an international flavor.

Find out more at www.LionelLoueke.com.