Thursday, April 10, 2008

Record Reviews: "Karibu," "Enjoy"

I don't think there's any question that Lionel Loueke is probably THE guitar player working right now (or at least THE post-Rosenwinkel, post-big three guitar player). I suppose Mike Moreno is trying to make a claim at that, what with all of his sideman work for Josh Redman, Nick Payton, Greg Osby, and too many others to mention, but Loueke's legend is much better-known: after an audition for the Monk Institute (during which Loueke played "Footprints," no less), Wayne Shorter stood up and exclaimed Loueke his African brother, and Hancock hired him on the spot to be in his working band.

Loueke has just released a new record, his fifth overall and first for Blue Note, and like a number of recent Blue Note debuts by young artists (Robert Glasper's "Canvas" from a few years back comes to mind), this album is buried under annoyingly glossy production and features appearances by Loueke's more established friends. Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter both show up on this album, to it's detriment; the tracks with Shorter and Hancock break the flow of the record, and the tracks they appear on are formless. Additionally, the chorus effect that shows up on a few tracks ("Karibu," "Nonvignon") takes urgency away from Loueke's performance.

That said, however, there is a lot to like about this album. Loueke's originals are as good as ever, as is his guitar playing. And while performances of songs that he has already played before on numerous occasions don't compare to the other versions ("Benny's Tune," "Nonvignon"), they show that Loueke is always looking for different ways to play his songs. I'd recommend this album, but tepidly; the songs and performances could have been great if only they weren't mired by the production.

"Enjoy," the first effort by Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, is a very interesting record. If you can imagine a combination of the big band pop covers of the late sixties ("Mercy Mercy Mercy" by Buddy Rich, "Basie's Beatle Bag") and Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra circa 1982 ("Song of the Fallen" is a great record that no one ever listens to) that is solely devoted to the repertoire of Bjork Gudmundstudder, you can imagine what Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra sounds like.

The album has some great contemporary big-band arrangements, calling to mind Dave Holland's work in the idiom to a degree, and everyone's playing (the band includes Alan Ferber, Ben Monder, Sullivan, and another fifteen people) is pretty killer. The stand-outs are "Hyperballad," "Alarm Call" and "Hunter," but each arrangement has something to recommend about it. In all honesty I was surprised at how well this record worked. Highly recommended.

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