Lionel Loueke ‘Heritage’ (Blue Note) 4/5

West African (Benin to be exact) composer, guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke has made a prodigious start to his career performing with the likes of Kenny Baron, Avishai Cohen, Herbie Hancock, Jack de Johnette, Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter to name but a few. For his latest album as a leader for Blue Note, he has joined up with fellow labelmate pianist Robert Glasper plus trio and it is the former who also produces the set. Whoever decided upon the pairing made an inspired choice for the music here works at several levels. First of all the all-original compositions are generally both substantial and catchy, and thereby allow African and jazz influences to fuse seamlessly together. In some respects the musical métissage reminds this writer of the collaboration between Joe Zawinul and Salif Keita from the early 1990s that was ahead of its time, but in an increasingly inter-dependent world now sounds totally logical. Add in some intersting musical guest including vocalist Gretchen Parlato on a couple of songs and you have a multi-dimensional album of note. The reposing Brazilian-influenced (in terms of vocals) ‘Ouidah’ could have come straight off George Duke’s ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ and in general gentle-paced rhythms particularly suit Loueke. Latin fusion with a nod to Pat Metheny emerges on the excellent ‘Tribal dance’ that may just be the album’s most compelling number while African dance flavours are most evident on the staccato rhythms of ‘Farafina’. Weather Report have clearly been a major influence on Lionel Loueke and this is perfectly illustrated on the wordless vocals of ‘Ifé’ with guitar playing that sounds as though Loueke has also listened a great deal to Ali Farka Touré. There is something on this album for jazz and world roots devotees alike and the gulf between the two is not nearly as great as some purists might have you think. A fine collaboration. Tim Stenhouse

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