Wednesday, March 3, 2010
This Friday @7PM: Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke grew up in what he has described as a family of poor intellectuals in the West African country of Benin. He began playing percussion instruments around the age of 9, but was influenced by an older brother who played guitar, which he began playing himself in his late teens. It took Loueke a year to earn the $50 he needed to buy his first guitar. However, he could not afford to replace the strings, which had to be special-ordered from Nigeria. Instead, he soaked his strings in vinegar to keep them clean. When the strings broke, he had to replace them with bicycle brake cables that were very hard on his fingers. Loueke got his first professional job by accident; when a club manager heard him playing a guitar he had grabbed off the bandstand during a break and offered him work. He played African pop music, but discovered jazz when a friend returned from Paris with a copy of an album by jazz guitarist George Benson.
This inspired Loueke to study jazz in Paris. He then won a scholarship to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. In 2001, Loueke auditioned for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the University of Southern California. He was selected in a worldwide search by a panel of judges including jazz musicians Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard and Wayne Shorter. He attended the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz until 2003.
In 2002, while still at the Thelonious Monk Institute, Loueke began playing with trumpeter Blanchard. Loueke was featured on two albums with Blanchard for Blue Note Records, Bounce (2003) and Flow (2005). He subsequently has had a prolific career as a sideman. He has performed on jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s albums Possibilities (2006) and River: The Joni Letters (2007), and also worked with Kenwood Dennard, George Garzone, Bob Hurst, Alphonso Jonhson, Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Charlie Haden, Richard Bona, Nathan East, Vinnie Colaiuta, Marcus Miller, Sting, Brian Blade, John Patitucci, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, Santana, Dennis Chambers, Magos Herrera, and Gretchen Parlato.
Loueke formed the trio Gilfema with Massimo Biolcati (bass) and Ferenc Nemeth (drums), classmates from the Berklee College of Music, and released two albums on the ObliqSound label: Gilfema (2005), and Gilfema + 2 (2008), featuring clarinet players Anat Cohen and John Ellis. Under his own name, Loueke recorded the live album In a Trance in 2005, and Virgin Forest, which was released by ObliqSound in 2006.
Loueke made his major-label debut in 2008, when Blue Note released his album Karibu. NPR.org praised the guitarist for his fusion of traditional African music with modern jazz harmonies, unique vocal inflections, and complex time signatures. The album features Biolcati and Nemeth, as well as guest appearances by Hancock and Shorter. His latest album, Mwaliko (2010), is a collection of duo and trio performances that mixes traditional West African music and jazz. Guests include fellow Benin native Kidjo, Cameroonian bassist and singer Richard Bona, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, doing a version of Shorter’s classic composition "Nefertiti".
In early 2008, Loueke's "Kponnon Kpété" won in The 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Traditional World Song.