CD REVIEW: Lionel Loueke – The Journey


Lionel Loueke – The Journey
(Aparte Music AP184. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The musicians on this album come from a variety of backgrounds: classical music, jazz, African music, Brazilian music. They reflect the eclectic nature of the man at the centre – the Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke is one of those natural border-crossers, his music driven not by a particular genre but by the set of very personal voices in his head.

His unmistakable guitar and vocal style is writ large throughout this album of original compositions, some of them decorated by the likes of bassist Pino Palladino, percussionist and berimbau player Cyro Baptista, violinist Mark Feldman, soprano saxophonist John Ellis and others. Perhaps the most crucial contributor aside from Loueke is Robert Sadin who not only plays keyboards here and there but contributes his strong sound and character in the producer’s chair.

This is an extremely intimate album. Loueke is up close behind that speaker baffle, one can almost feel his breath, the scratch of fingernail upon nylon string, yet Sadin provides, too, a generous, near cinemascope breadth to the recording without somehow sacrificing that intimacy: one’s living room miraculously opens out so there is a whole African landscape stretching out behind the tall, handsome man singing to you from just a metre or so away.

Sadin, in an enlightening liner-note, writes about Loueke’s in-depth rhythmic articulacy – the African, sometimes asymmetrical, fluidity enhanced not only by his jazz experience but also by his absorption of the complex counts of Eastern European folk music. But, as Sadin points out, “these meters are not counted in an equidistant way. They are felt – not every beat is equal”.

Most of the music is acoustic, yet even the processed guitar sounds – try track seven, Dark Lightning – sounds earthy and natural rather than digitally derived.

It’s hard to pick out individual tracks for recommendation as they sound equally lovely and, more importantly, naturally sequenced to form the progression of the title. For me, The Journey is Lionel Loueke’s most compelling and satisfyingly rounded album to date. Highly recommended.

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