What a brilliant show by Lionel Loueke and his trio at the new L'Astral. The same members, but different concept, from his Gilfema group, the trio played music from Loueke's Blue Note album, Karibu, far more powerful and engaging live than on the record.
Drummer Ferenc Nemeth and bassist Massimo Biolcati (the brains behind the iReal Book app) have a tremendous hook-up, ranging from the broken straight-eighth grooves to full-out walking swing. The metric shifts that dominate Loueke's music were performed with unified elasticity, and Nemeth's drumming style brings out the musicality of them, and not the mathematics, the way Marcus Gilmore might. Nemeth's small arsenal of percussion - cowbell and woodblock integrated to his kit, tambourine and dumbek off to the side - provided a novel percussive texture change behind Biolcati's bass solos. Nemeth has a way of building and releasing rhythmic tension alongside Loueke and Biolcati, without ever copying their lines verbatim. His solo on "Seven Teens," starting only on the snare and hi-hat while feathering the kick, as Biolcati and Loueke nailed the downbeats, was the highlight of the set.
Biolcati has a plucky attack in his upper register with a round woodiness on the bottom, a great anchor. His opening solo on the second tune had him anchoring the groove on low notes while filling in the gaps. The tune had a feel of metrically-shifted highlife, with Biolcati and Loueke in unison, opening up in the bridge.
Loueke was in phenomenal form throughout the show. Playing a nylon-string Godin guitar (and shouting out Robert Godin, who was in the audience) through Whammy and delay pedals, Loueke's sound was clean, with a warbling chorus effect via the Whammy's not-quite-accurate pitch tracking. In my brief interview with him, he affirmed that African music in all its forms is still a very prevalent and personal influence, and it was clear throughout his music: utilizing the clicks and pops of African dialects as another form of percussion; sticking a piece of paper under his strings to emulate a kora; the vocal harmonizer splitting his voice into a South African gospel choir; and the killing juju groove of "Nonvignon," complete with an audience singalong and a guest on soprano saxophone whose name I didn't catch.
Like The Bad Plus, Loueke proved that powerfully engaging music doesn't always come at high volume - his solo intro to "Karibu" and his coda to the second tune held me and the rest of my table in rapt attention.