Benin-born Lionel Loueke has made a successful career walking the tightrope of mixing traditional African sounds with guitar and voice with American post bop. At the acoustically adroit Moss Theatre, Loueke and his long-standing team of Massimo Biolcati/b and Ferenc Nemeth/dr took the audience on musical journeys ranging from the Sahel Desert to the Southern Delta.
Emphasizing material from the upcoming album The Journey, Loueke opened the evening with his guitar making oud-like impressions, teaming with his earnest and earthy voice delivering lyrics in his local dialect as the rhythm team slowly drifted in like the desert sands on “Dream.” The meditative “Vi-Ghin (My Child)” teamed together soft pastoral guitar strum, a soft moonlit voice with genteel folk melodies, gently caressed by Ferenc’s edgy cymbal work, as the song closed out with haunting voice and guitar, drifting to a close like the waning tide.
Loueke and company flexed its collective muscles for the sleek and jazzy “Seventeen” which had the leader switching between pedals like Mario Andretti. Along with using his voice with percussive clicks, his guitar served up metallic riffs and chords, going mano a mano with Biolcati’s fluid and snappy bass before Loueke changed partners and arm wrestled Ferenc on a duet/duel to a draw, with sparks bouncing off of the walls.
Biolcati introduced the fluid “Forgiveness” with a yearning bass line, with Loueke and Ferenc gradualling adding layers of pulse until the piece turned into a gallop, as the leader added both vocal and string melody and percussion to the layers, transplanting the audience to a West African village. With Biolcati back to electric bass, Loueke delivered some funky guitar riffs on “Freedom Dance” while his voice delivered through some pedals sounded like Ladysmith Black Mambazo just joined the stage.
Closing the evening, Mr. Loueke had the audience join in a sing along on the lilting “Caba” with choir-like voices mixed from the leader’s VOX melding with the pulsating campfire chant. The mix of African red clay, starry skies and anthem-like them had Mr. Loueke lead the crowd, as in the title of his upcoming release, on a Journey. The trio served as excellent guides through the heart of Africa.
Upcoming shows sponsored by the Jazz Bakery include Willie Jones III 04/21, Dafnis Prieto 04/28 and Billy Childs 05/13