Kevin Hays/Lionel Loueke cook up a quiet storm at King’s Place

Kevin Le Gendre
Friday, October 18, 2019

The renowned guitarist and pianist play music from their latest album, Hope

This fine concert could be marketed many ways. On one hand it is a meeting of two instrumentalists, American pianist Keivn Hays and Beninois guitarist Lionel Loueke under the banner of international contemporary jazz. Yet it is not hard to imagine a folk or pop audience being able to appreciate the compelling directness of much of the material, whose noble lyrical character is given an added dimension by the cultured use the two men make of their voices. They sing as well as play songs.

The set list mostly comprises pieces from their recently released album Hope, which, beautifully recorded as it is, makes for a valuable showcase of the duo, but on stage, in an auditorium with superior acoustics, there are additional nuances to be enjoyed. Hays has a deep languor, if not pathos in a delivery that prizes careful, unhurried intonation, savouring the syllables of a gilded lament such as ‘Out Of Nowhere’, with its mildly classical romanticism, while Loueke turns his voice into the fall of a feather or distant rustle of autumn leaves. However, his rapid tongue clicks quicken the pulse of a track such as ‘Twins’, injecting a rhythmic energy that contrasts vividly with the measured poise elsewhere. Proven sidemen to bonafide legends such as Eddie Henderson [Hays] and Herbie Hancock [Loueke] both artists are seriously schooled.

Indeed, their command of key moments in jazz history is ably demonstrated by a breeze through Charlie Parker’s bebop staple ‘Donna Lee’ and a swaying rendition of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Don’t Stop The Carnival’, that underlines the kinship of West Indian calypso and West African highlife. It could be argued that these are the ‘chops tunes’ to offset the lullaby quality of many of the originals, but the point is that the duo often kneads complexity and simplicity right into the same piece, with ‘Violetta’ being a prime example, rather than alternating high and lowbrow sensibilities. On several occasions Loueke abandons his lithe arpeggios and fine skimming of strings to play deep, rotund basslines that broaden the tonal spectrum of the songs in a simple but highly effective way. Yet beyond the sharp precision of the sounds produced by each player it is the chemistry between them, apparent on a svelte rhapsody like ‘Milton’, a tribute to Brazilian legend Milton Nascimento, that makes this an engrossing evening.  

– Photos by Roger Thomas

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