News Column

West African guitarist Lionel Loueke freely mixes musical genres

February 25, 2014

By Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press

Feb. 26--JAZZ

The West African guitarist Lionel Loueke is a beguiling musician. It's not just the unusually wide sweep of his influences but the natural fluency and exploratory zeal with which he synthesizes contemporary post-bop, the rhythms and forms of his native Benin, Afro-Caribbean styles and, well, just about anything else that comes across his imagination.

Loueke, who also vocalizes in conjunction with his guitar playing, can conjure up all kinds of percussive sounds from his instrument -- tapping out beats and rhythms with his hands, damping strings and making creative use of electronics to sound like a one-man orchestra. The opportunity to hear him in such intimate quarters as the Kerrytown Concert House is a rarity these days. Moreover, he's teaming up with Detroit-bred bassist (and University of Michigan professor) Robert Hurst, a musician whose quick ears and expansive tastes sometimes get lost in discussions focused on his mainstream roots. Cuban-born drummer Jose (Pepe) Espinosa completes the international trio.

8 p.m. Thursday, 415 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor. 734-769-2999. $15-$30,$5 students.

A few days after his Ann Arbor concert, Loueke will join one of his first major employers, Terence Blanchard, as a guest with the trumpeter's quintet. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is also on the bill as a second special guest. Blanchard has become a regular local presence during his tenure as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. (He has, in fact, re-upped for 2014-15, his third season in the chair.)

It was just a few weeks ago at Orchestra Hall that Blanchard stepped into the challenging soloist's role in the classic large-ensemble arrangements that Gil Evans wrote for Miles Davis in the late '50s. Blanchard's playing that night was spectacular, striking an ideal balance of respecting the integrity of the Davis-Evans originals while still bringing his own personality to the stage. With his own quintet, Blanchard showcases his rewarding compositions and a loose, improvisatory aesthetic that marries his typically brooding lyricism with a simmering intensity that can shift into roiling boil at any moment.

One of Blanchard's sometimes-overlooked gifts is his ability to organize a band in his own image and his ear for young talent. Not only was he an early champion of Loueke, but his current group includes the fast-rising pianist Fabian Almazan, along with saxophonist Brice Winston, bassist Joshua Crumbly and drummer Justin Brown.

8 p.m. Saturday, Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit. 313-576-5111. $18-$60.

One of the more singular forces in contemporary American music, the veteran guitarist Fred Frith roams freely, creating soundscapes at the intersection of the experimental traditions in rock, classical, electronic music and improvisation. His Saturday gig at Trinosophes will be his long-overdue Detroit debut. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. 1464 Gratiot. $12.


Of Charles Ives' four numbered symphonies, the Third, completed in 1904, might be the most magical. Carrying the subtitle of "The Camp Meeting," it is a quiet work, an interior monologue of whispered memories, darker secrets, revivalist hymns and an extraordinary series of harmonic modulations that suggest a surprise lurking around every corner. It's not a piece that gets played a lot, so any chance to hear it qualifies as a special event. The Michigan Philharmonic, led by conductor Nan Wasburn, has created a promising if quirky and eclectic context for Ives' masterpiece, surrounding it with Dvorak's "Te Deum," a new work by California-based composer Lee Actor called "Opening Remarks" and the popular choruses from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." The Plymouth Oratorio Society provides the singing.

2 p.m. Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 45201 N. Territorial. 745-451-2112. $30, $25 seniors, $10 students.

Contact Mark Stryker: 313-222-6459 or


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