Lionel Loueke Album Review: "Mwaliko"
When Benin-born guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke was touring with jazz ensembles led by Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock, both bandleaders went out of their way to showcase his talents. Yet it wasn't until Loueke recorded a series of solo CDs that listeners could fully appreciate the breadth of his talents and interests.
It's tempting to describe Mwaliko," Loueke's fourth release, as a jazz album for folks who aren't necessarily interested in jazz, since its Afro-pop appeal is undeniable. The opening track, Ami O," featuring Anglique Kidjo's chanting vocal, is rhythmically sly, slippery and syncopated. Another charmer, the cleverly and sensuously harmonized Twins," earns its title in no time, thanks to Loueke's seamless collaboration with bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding. Yet even the most accessible cuts reveal Loueke's delight in improvising, and when the focus shifts to jazz interplay or interpretation, the music acquires more color and complexity, with bassist Richard Bona occasionally playing a key role.