Monthly Archives: May 2010

Bill Frisell Plays His Way To Common Ground

The Intercontinentals

The Intercontinentals

Bill Frisell, this gentle, genre-bending guitarist who can capture the world’s essence in a song or speak in a voice that is clearly American, extends himself towards us and in the process touches something basic, something existential.   His music is full of the joy of life yet there’s always a hint of sorrow there, too, some echo of our knowledge that nothing lasts forever.

So it is with “Good Old People,” from Bill Frisell’s 2003 album The Intercontinentals. We have melody and pulse, soaring guitars and African rhythm.  Violin and pedal steel are driven by drum and cymbal, calabash and triangle, all played by a truly intercontinental collection of Frisell’s best friends.

“Good Old People” stands on its own just fine as music but like many Frisell creations it’s more than a world-class cut from a world-class album.   “Good Old People” is a vessel for emotions both joyful and melancholy,   a soaring, cascading celebration of life that gets to the essence of what makes Bill Frisell special — his talent for touching the common humanity in all of us.

Listen to this.   No matter where you are, it sounds like home.

Bill Frisell – guitars, bass
Sidiki Camara – calabash, djembe, congas, percussion
Jenny Scheinman – violin
Greg Leisz – pedal steel guitar
Vinicius Cantuaria – guitars, drums, percussion
Christos Govetas – oud, bouzouki


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Filed under Bill Frisell, Blip, guitar

Lionel Loueke’s Superstar Support

Photo by Juan-Carlos Hernandez, Geneva, Switzerland

Lionel Loueke

I’ve been trying to figure out why I like Lionel Loueke’s music as much as I do.

Yes, he’s extremely good at what he does.  He has a distinct musical identity, his own particular combination of influences, and dedication to the craft.  He also has his own unique ways of making music. Whether he’s out front doing his own thing during his concerts or on his own records, I know it’s Lionel Loueke speaking to me from the second I hear his guitar, voice, or both.   The man from Benin is known far and wide for his beautifully moving recordings as a leader.

He is a living bridge between Africa and the West, steeped in the music of his childhood and fluent in America’s music, jazz.   But there’s something else.

It turns out I enjoy his work so much because he is the ultimate collaborator.    Even though he has an incredibly distinct style, when he’s working on someone else’s thing he brings just what’s needed for that moment.

Here are a few examples:
Loueke has a long history of collaboration with singer Gretchen Parlato; they’ve worked on each others’ albums for several years now.  On “Within Me,” from Parlato’s album In A Dream, Loueke seems to lay out during the verses and is gently there for the rest of the piece.   He provides rhythmic pulse and emphasis and stays out of the foreground.   His is a perfect, minimalist effort in support of a beautiful voice and lyric.

Magos Herrera, a very talented singer from Mexico by way of New York City, worked with Loueke on her album Distancia. The album’s opening cut, “Reencuentro,” features Loueke as an up-front member of the rhythm section.  He moves into his solo by echoing the last line of Herrera’s chorus and then has a melodic conversation with pianist Aaron Goldberg.   Here Loueke’s efforts are a prominent part of a successful group effort.

Terence Blanchard worked with Loueke on his latest album Choices. “Byus,” the album’s opening cut, features Loueke’s intro under Dr. Cornel West’s spoken words and his solo over  the cut’s fade.   In between, Loueke comps beautifully under Walter Smith III and Blanchard’s solos.   This time he gives a little signature Loueke in the beginning and a lot of inventive support for the rest of the cut.

I really appreciate the subtle support Lionel Loueke gives to others on their projects.  To me, his efforts are the very essence of the type of collaboration that makes much of today’s jazz so exciting.  Lionel Loueke helps others bring out the best in themselves, and that’s great for jazz fans everywhere.

Photo of Lionel Loueke by Juan-Carlos Hernandez

Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke on his technique and influences
Gretchen Parlato
Magos Herrera
Terence Blanchard
Dr. Cornel West

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Filed under guitar, Lionel Loueke

Steve Kuhn’s Passionate Piano



Steve Kuhn is the pianist I turn to when I need unlimited beauty, which means I turn to him quite often.

Kuhn, a former child prodigy on piano with a distinctively strong-yet-tender touch, turned out to be the last pianist John Coltrane had a major working relationship with before McCoy Tyner came on the scene.   Kuhn played with Coltrane for some time, but their work together was never recorded for release.

Steve Kuhn was a late discovery for me.  One night last year I was listening to “Jazz Tonight,” a weeknight jazz show on my local NPR station back at my former home, when I heard Kuhn doing his rendition of John Coltrane’s “I Want To Talk About You” in a trio setting.  Turned out this was a cut from Kuhn’s ECM album Mostly Coltrane, a tribute to Kuhn’s former boss made up largely of Coltrane compositions.  This deeply moving performance inspired me to buy several of Kuhn’s piano trio albums.  I’ve been spreading the word about him ever since.

“My Buddy,” with Eddie Gomez on bass and Billy Drummond on drums, is classic Steve Kuhn — melodic, deeply rhythmic, lush and crystalline at the same time.

Steve Kuhn
John Coltrane
McCoy Tyner
Eddie Gomez
Billy Drummond

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Filed under piano, Steve Kuhn, trio