be discounted in the enjoyment of innovative or unusual jazz is
figuring it out: the interval and cadence that personalizes it,
and the early influences (familial, geographical, sociological)
that unconsciously shape and inflect both composition and performance
into instantly recognizable portraits of the artist.
we speak of a musician growing into his signature or style, it
requires that he be wholly himself in his music, meaning that
his essential task is to absorb and then dissolve the aggregate
of his schooling and influences into his own person. And since
no two individuals are alike, there can be no formula or algorithm
to help us identify a signature that, despite the unceasing renewal
of context and content, always remains the same. We note that
with significantly less to learn and schooling not required, most
rock and pop composers discover their style before the age of
25; jazz composers much later in life.
occasion of the 2013 Montreal
International Jazz Festival,
guitarist/composer Lionel Loueke left no doubt that each and every
one of his compositions are stories that speak to his life experience
through music. Both his writing and soloing represent new ways
of thinking about jazz because he doesn’t think of himself
exclusively as a jazz musician. Without flaunting orthodoxy, he
sees himself as a vehicle or facilitator for music that he allows
to follow its natural course – genre and borders be damned:
Benin-born Loueke is much more than the tidy sum of his African
roots and European and American schooling.
tracks from his most recent CD Heritage, with Marc Guiliana
on drums and the fabulously creative Nigerian-born Michael Olatuja
on bass, Loueke immediately grabs the attention of the listener
because his music seems to defy his African origins; he insists
that his writing be shaped by and reflect his personal experience.
Among the first to have grasped the importance of this lesson
in authenticity was Jimi Hendrix, who refused to be straight-jacketed
by the colour of his skin and the codes of the 'hood.
who on two occasions has been named DownBeat’s
Rising Star Guitarist, gravitates towards a sound that is electric,
but toned down by his preference for nylon strings instead of
the conventional steel string, on top of which he dispenses with
the pick in favour of classical finger picking. And while the
sound is quite unusual and thus draws attention to itself, audiences
are note-quick to recognize that the guitarist’s idiosyncratic
approach to his instrument is always in service of music that
is in equal parts intimate and urbane.
subliminal influences, the major geographical themes of Loueke’s
life are notationally on the same page, he turns the page when
it comes to the delivery of his fusion, which is unconventional
in the best sense. By staying true to his creative centrifuge,
he revitalizes the genre as well as enlarges its possibilities.
to the steel string, the nylon generated note, like the banjo
note, dies out quickly, resulting in snappy, staccato like runs
that are remarkable for the easy breezes they leave in their wake.
In the context of electric guitar, the effects are indeed gratifying.
Perhaps Loueke, who has lived the greater part of his adult life
in the modern city, is nostalgic for the wide open spaces he enjoyed
nylon string sound precludes extended sequences of melody. During
a concert there are interludes when it feels like he’s trying
to occupy two different spaces at the same time, at which point
his inventive soloing turns into a calculated rage against the
inarticulate: he makes the string bite, snap, pinch and smart,
until it retreats and recoils and briefly resolves into unexpected
stillness. He sets up the improvisational sections by using the
electric component of the guitar for chordal sequences that he
blurs and distorts in order to more effectively throw the solo
musician, Loueke makes a compelling case that he is comfortable
as a jazz outsider who is already in the zone, and confident that
his inner visions are the stuff around which new categories of
listeners are founded and sustained, brave new listeners who delight
in the intricacies of jazz as well as original music wherever
clippings and peer recognition are reliable indicators, Lionel
Loueke is a guitar happening the likes of which jazz hasn’t
seen in many a year. That he cannot compete with Sylvain Luc and
Russell Malone in terms of technique and dexterity is a measure
of his exceptional ability (not unlike Bill Frisell) to infuse
acoustic space with the force of his personality and enduring
compositions. In a very short time Loueke has become a sound to
reckon with in jazz because his feelings have found the form that
best answers to what audiences cherish most in the making of music.