Lionel Loueke Trio 'GAÏA'
@ the PizzaExpress Jazz Club
12 July 2016
Click an image to enlarge.
Loueke’s story begins in Benin, a small country in West Africa,
where he was born to parents that he describes as “intellectual,”
adding that “music was part of everyday life, but not in the
family.” Fortunately an older brother played guitar and was
part of a band that played Afro-Pop music in the style of Fela Kuti
and King Sunny Ade. “I remember when I was 11 or 12 I was
going to see my brother perform. I would be listening from 10pm
to 3am in the morning, just looking at him playing, listening to
the music.” Finally when Loueke was 17 years old, his brother
let him pick up his guitar, and he quickly realized that he had
a great facility for the instrument. Besides the Afro-Pop music
that he heard his brother performing, Loueke also began to be enamoured
with the traditional African music of Benin, as well as Nigeria,
Congo, Zaire, Mali and Senegal. However, it was an encounter with
Jazz music that would set Loueke on a different course. A friend
of his brother’s came to visit from Paris, bringing with him
a CD of guitarist George Benson. “I listened to that and it
was unreal for me. I had to transcribe every single line trying
to play like him. Then I tried to check out what happened before
him, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass.”
Loueke finally decided to pursue music more seriously and left
Benin to attend the National Institute of Art in the Ivory Coast.
Short of money, Loueke stumbled fortuitously into his first professional
gig. He explains: “I was a student, and I couldn’t pay
my rent so they kicked me out, and I needed to get a gig so bad.
So there was a club, and I tried so many times to get a gig there.
So one night I just went to the club because I was desperate. I
didn’t have anything. I needed money to survive. The band
took a break, during the break I went on stage, I picked up the
guy’s guitar and I start playing. They came to me and tried
to grab back the instrument. And the manager said ‘No, let
him play.’ So after I played the manager said ‘Man,
you want a gig?!’ [laughs] That was my first gig, and I carried
that gig for two years!”
In 1994, Loueke left Africa and moved to Paris to pursue Jazz studies,
enrolling at the American School of Modern Music, a small conservatory
run by several alumni of the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
After graduation, Loueke was awarded a scholarship to attend Berklee,
and so he left Paris and moved to the United States. It was at Berklee
that he first met Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth, the musicians
who would become his core band. Through jam sessions, the trio developed
an immediate rapport, in part fueled by internationalism. Biolcati
is of Italian decent, but grew up in Sweden, while Nemeth was born
and raised in Hungary. Both had extensively studied African music
and were drawn to Loueke who was just beginning to fuse a Jazz technique
with his African roots.
After graduating from Berklee, Loueke was accepted to the Thelonious
Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles along with Biolcati and Nemeth.
The Monk Institute is a selective program that allows students to
study and perform with some of the finest Jazz musicians in the
world, including three legends that would nurture Loueke’s
burgeoning talent and become his greatest mentors: Herbie Hancock,
Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard. “I flipped,” says
Hancock, recalling the moment he first heard Loueke’s audition
tape. “I’d never heard any guitar player play anything
close to what I was hearing from him. There was no territory that
was forbidden, and he was fearless!”
Before even graduating from the Monk Institute, Loueke began touring
in Blanchard’s sextet, a highly-creative band that recorded
two albums for Blue Note (Bounce and Flow) and allowed Loueke to
begin expressing his own voice as a soloist and composer. Since
leaving Blanchard’s band he has been hired by Hancock and
become a prominent member of the pianist’s current quartet,
touring extensively and recording on Hancock’s Grammy-nominated
album, River: The Joni Letters (Verve). Loueke has also recorded
albums under his name.