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Album Review

Whether in a duo or trio, he clicks

February 15, 2010

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Guitarist Lionel Loueke, a transplant from Bénin in West Africa who is a rising star on the New York jazz scene, offers an unusual program on his second album for Blue Note. It’s part invitational, with seven duets that pair Loueke with singer Angélique Kidjo, bassists Esperanza Spalding and Richard Bona, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Three other songs feature Loueke’s trio with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth.

The collection is more coherent than one might think, thanks to Loueke’s technique and ability to switch from the ruminative groove of “Nefertiti’’ (with Gilmore) to the open-space “Griot’’ (with the trio) or the lean, deconstructive take of a Bénin traditional song (with Kidjo). Loueke’s trademark clicking vocals and the pedal effects on his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar give the duets body, while his comfort across post-bop, fusion, and African music sets up fascinating encounters.

On the quiet gem “Wishes,’’ Loueke and Cameroon-born Bona work in a vein that’s part chamber, part Americana; later, on “Hide Life,’’ the two deliver West African highlife complete with vocal harmonies and an exchange of greetings in French that underscores the record’s unforced cosmopolitan feel. (Out now)

SIDDHARTHA MITTER

JAZZ
Lionel Loueke Mwaliko
Blue Note
ESSENTIAL “Wishes’’