March 24 -- Two new CDs by Lionel Loueke and
Benjamin Lapidus feature two guitar sounds and many cultures.
Jazz gets fused with bebop, Jewish liturgical texts, African
music and Afro-Puerto Rican dance music called Bomba.
The results are extraordinary.
LIONEL LOUEKE, ``Karibu'' (Blue Note):
This CD is released tomorrow. ``Karibu'' means ``welcome''
in Swahili, and Loueke's music is as though Africa is welcoming
its offspring jazz back home.
As we all know, jazz was born in Africa. There have been
fusions of African music and jazz before, with the pianist Randy
Weston, for one. But guitarist Loueke takes it farther; I have
never heard it sound so organic. He's kind of like a bebop griot.
On this CD, Loueke, who was born and bred in Benin, West
Africa, and now lives in Brooklyn, mostly scat-sings in unison or
octaves with his guitar. You might call it George Benson
territory. Loueke, however, has unusually sophisticated chops.
There are few lyrics on this album. When he does sing words,
it's in his native language Fon, which, in the Northern
Hemisphere, come across as scat singing. There is a beautiful
instrumental calypso take on Hoagy Carmichael's ``Skylark.''
One big difference between the young jazz musicians of today
and of yesterday is that today they have to be comfortable in all
sorts of time signatures in addition to 4/4. (When I was a young
musician, a waltz was a stretch.) Here, the swing is sometimes in
seven and 11. I gave up counting at 11, though I'm told one tune
is in 17.
Loueke's parents were both school teachers and they wanted
him to study law. But he grew up listening to African bands such
as Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure, and Alpha Blondy, and he was
quickly seduced by the guitar. Then he went to study music in
Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, winning a prize or two along
the way; and then Herbie Hancock ``discovered'' him.
He played in a trio with Hancock and saxophonist Wayne
Shorter in Hiroshima to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the
explosion of the first atomic bomb. He also played a prominent
role on Hancock's Grammy winning album, ``River: The Joni
Both Shorter and Hancock are guest soloists on this,
Loueke's first solo album on Blue Note. Loueke is at a point in
his career where he is no longer a mere talented young player: He
is becoming an event.
BENJAMIN LAPIDUS: ``Herencia Judia'' (Tresero Productions):
Speaking of revolutionary guitarists, Benjamin Lapidus has
produced, and arranged, and he solos and sings on, a truly
remarkable CD that combines Jewish liturgical texts set to music
that fit just fine with Bomba dance music.
Lapidus, who has a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, says that his
goal was ``to combine Afro-Caribbean culture with Jewish liturgy
without sacrificing the musical or spiritual qualities'' of these
traditions. Sometimes he sings in Hebrew, sometimes in Spanish.
``My travels,'' he says in a note with the record, ``have
not only placed me in contact with my distant family scattered
throughout the Caribbean, but also with the Jewish communities in
Cuba, Colombia, and Puerto Rico.
``My experiences during the carnival in both Guantanamo and
Santiago reminded me of the Simchat Torah celebration, and so the
`Comparsa de Simchat Torah' consists of songs during the hakafot,
when we finish reading the Torah in its entirety.''
To hear the swinging Caribbean rhythms complete with
cowbells, claves, maracas, and conga drums, backing up songs such
as ``Tzadik Katama,'' ``Ein Kelokeinu,'' and ``Kaddish Para
Daniel'' (for the journalist Daniel Pearl, slain in Pakistan) is,
in every sense of the word, a trip