HH, guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke‘s dedication to Herbie Hancock, with whom he has shared a Berlin stage several years ago while he was in the piano meister’s band (he played with him for 15 years), is also the first outing for the Benin-born musician on the fancy Edition Records.
First surprise is that this is a solo album, with Lionel’s voice and guitar solely praising twelve of Herbie’s biggest compositions, ranging from his early Blue Note years to the groundbreaking “Rockit” from 1983. In fact, the genre-defying classic is actually the weakest spot on this otherwise fabulous album. There are some pauses and too many gimmicks which don’t really fit I think. But don’t get too distracted from this entry. With “Come Running To Me”, from the still amazing “Sunlight” LP (1978), Lionel comes up with a catchy voice and guitar cover with lots of enticing chord progressions and a pretty subtle sounding acoustic guitar which both celebrates the original composition, but also has enough merit to show Lionel’s own distinctive style.
The album opens with “Hang Up Your Hangups” (from “Man-Child”, 1975), a swinging, brilliant and fresh take on acoustic again which is probably the second surprise here since Lionel plays acoustic most of the time (except for just two tracks). Which is actually a very nice and positive surprise. His take on “Driftin'” (from “Takin’ Off”, 1962, which also includes “Watermelon Man”) is one of the highlights of this set, with its repetitive patterns simply becoming a long and lasting bow to Herbie’s art. Some African-inspired playing graces “Actual Proof”, one of the many showstoppers during Herbie’s live performances with the guitarist. For “Cantaloupe Island”, we get the electric finally, and the outcome is decidedly funky and moving, only enhancing Lionel’s quality of sounding like at least three people instead of just one. “Watermelon Man” is amazingly deconstructed and put together again with an unassuming swagger and slaps that you just want to listen to it over and over again.
One of my favorite Hancock compositions, “Butterfly”, is played with lots of restraint and focus on the original mood and atmosphere of the track. His wordless vocals fit perfectly. It’s a true gem. “Dolphin Dance” is so beautiful with Lionel reminding me of some early Charlie Byrd or Mundell Lowe. It’s an amazing trip to hear how the tune is stripped down to its very essence and yet, Lionel puts so much finesse and elegance into his interpreation, making this another highlight of this set. There are two songs written by Lionel: He changes “Maiden Voyage” to “Voyage Maiden”, with just a couple of gentle hints to the original, making this another quiet, slow ballad with just a few added effects. He also adds a children’s voice to another classic, “Speak Like A Child”, keeping the pace very slow and tranquil. “Hommage To HH” is the second original by Lionel, a deeply personal, reflective, introspective dedication to his mentor. Which makes the closing, rocking, rousing take on “One Finger Snap” a bit irritating for me, disturbing somehow the otherwise pretty serene atmosphere of the whole outing.
I think this is clearly Lionel’s best record to date and yes, it is available on vinyl, too!