How Beninese guitar-virtuoso Lionel Loueke manages to find the time for the multitude of projects he is involved in year after year remains puzzling.
Already featured on Chick Corea and Steve Gadd’s 2018 release Chinese Butterfly and Czech saxophonist Lubos Soukup’s Zembe, Lionel Loueke has two of his own projects in the works for a 2018 release all the while still finding the time to catch up with his long-standing trio comprised of Ferenc Nemeth and Massimo Biolcati and to regroup for a short set of concerts across Europe, performing new compositions—starting at the A-Trane in Berlin.
There are many layers to Loueke’s compositions and their execution in this trio formation. The most striking aspect is found in the highly percussive rhythmical foundation laid out by Nemeth and teased upon by Loueke’s intriguing technique on his Sadowsky Nylon guitar. The pickup of the latter is situated under the instruments bridge, which triggers a thin guitar sound -high in treble and therefore offering many ornamenting features. Biolcati is the backbone of the operation but this doesn’t keep him from adding to the dizziness of uneven meters in layers of polyrhythms and syncopation.
The new pieces presented at the A-Trane seem to work as a bridge between Loueke’s last two solo offerings—2012’s Heritage and 2015’s full blown rock extravaganza Gaia. While some of the raw force and thumping riffs à la Gaia remain, the multi-layered vocal effect, that enhances Louke’s folkloric chant in anthemic fashion, returns and effectively contrasts the highly complex showcases such as a debut offering of a rapid jam in 17/4. Odd time signatures are of course a given when confronted with Loueke’s music -an intricate 9/8 being his pendent of a typical largo in alla breve. The 7-piece set was most versatile, going from fingerpicked ballads to crashing pentatonic ostinatos which showcased Loueke’s, by now, signature octave and overtone-infused guitar tone, all the while framed in the trio’s highly dynamic interplay. Dynamism being another essential keyword: Not only does the nature of the pieces shift from heavy blows to contemplating balladry but the player’s competences in a variety of techniques further emphasize said shifts. Apart from a standard drum set, Nemeth was also equipped with plenty of percussions, a chain of bells installed on top of the hi-hat resounding the edges. Loueke weighed in to the percussive pool by means of alternating between singing, humming and occasionally deconstructing a train of thought with a bubbly beatbox-scat blend, to which he subsequently added syncopated comping on guitar. As if this show of impressively technical and singular skill wasn’t enough, the trio knew how to emotionally pull in and involve the audience as well—most strikingly so on the melancholically celebratory hymn “Kaba,” where the audience was asked to join in a canon of a chorus.
Seeing how the A-Trane is a traditionally small jazz-club, barely fitting 50, the trio was in no need of additional amplification which came in favor of said dynamism and topped off the intimate evening with much welcome crunch.