On October 30, Blue Note Records will release GAÏA, the remarkable rock-infused new album from acclaimed Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. On GAÏA, Loueke reunited with his longtime trio featuring bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth for a session produced by GRAMMY-winning producer and Blue Note president Don Was that was recorded live in the studio with an intimate audience in attendance. The album is available for pre-order now, and the single “Aziza Dance” is available to download or stream.
“I always wanted to record this trio live” says Loueke of the sessions, which were captured at Sear Sound in New York City. “We were all in the same room with a small audience, no headphones, no isolation and no overdubs of course. It has a real live feel. It was a very special event.”
Loueke's compositional mastery is evident in the construction of the 11 original songs presented here and the trio's performances are extraordinary, a testament to the intuitive dialogue these three musicians have developed since they first met while attending the Berklee College of Music in the late 1990s. “I don't think we sound like any other trio on the scene today" says an understated Loueke. “I have been writing for this trio for a long time. They can handle every metrical challenge in my songs. There is an inside communication between the three of us.”
The musical dialogue on GAÏA pertains to the nature of the Earth and man's effect on it, an urgent message at a time when the warning signs of global warming have become undeniable. In Greek mythology, Gaïa is the personification of the Earth, the mother goddess who birthed the planet and the entire universe. "She would be angry,” Loueke states bluntly. “We have not taken good care of her child.”
GAÏA is punctuated by several powerful tracks with a decided rock edge, including “Wacko Loco” and “Procession” which present a different side of an artist that The New York Times once hailed as a “gentle virtuoso.” “B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix were my heroes,” says Loueke.
The album ends surprisingly with a spry version of the Bee Gees hit “How Deep Is Your Love” which leaves us pondering how we might change this destructive course. “I didn't understand the words when I was young,” says Loueke. “I just loved the beautiful melody and voices.” Even presented wordless, the lyrics take on new meaning here: “And you may not think I care for you / When you know down inside that I really do.”
Lionel Loueke picked up the guitar late at age 17. After his initial to exposure to jazz in Benin, he left to attend the National Institute of Art in Ivory Coast. In 1994 he left Africa to pursue jazz studies at the American School of Modern Music in Paris then came to the U.S. on a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music where he first encountered his future trio mates Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth. After graduating Loueke was accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute where he was able to study with his most significant mentors: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard.
Praised by Hancock as “a musical painter,” Loueke combines harmonic complexity, soaring melody, a deep knowledge of African folk forms, and conventional and extended guitar techniques to create a warm and evocative sound of his own. His Blue Note debut Karibu (2008) featured guest appearances from Hancock and Shorter with his trio and was met with wide acclaim. Mwaliko (2010) offered a series of intimate duets with Angelique Kidjo, Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding and Marcus Gilmore. Heritage (2012) was co-produced by label mate Robert Glasper and found Loueke exploring a more electric sound with a new trio featuring Derrick Hodge on electric bass and Mark Guiliana on drums.
In addition to albums with his collective trio Gilfema with Biolcati and Nemeth, Loueke has appeared on recordings by Hancock, Blanchard, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Kenny Barron, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Joe Lovano, as well as contemporaries including Spalding, Gretchen Parlato, Kendrick Scott and others. He has also toured the world with Hancock and is a member of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary all-star band with Glasper, Hodge, Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire and Marcus Strickland.