Take Five Runs Hot and Cool: Lionel Loueke, Wayne Horvitz, Tord Gustavsen and More

Sep 23, 2018

From jazz and poetry to the plight of immigrants, Take Five looks at five new tunes that explore cultural currency in music.

Lionel Loueke, “Mandé”

The immigrant experience is far from an abstraction for Lionel Loueke. Born and raised in the West African country of Benin, where he first began playing guitar, he came to the United States almost 20 years ago, for conservatory. (At the Berklee College of Music he met the members of his longtime trio, who later joined him at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.)

On a new album, The Journey, releasing this Friday on Aparté Music, Loueke draws inspiration from the plight of immigrants and asylum seekers in our current climate. “The crisis of the refugees is a humanitarian crisis,” he says in a press statement, reflecting a perspective shared by one of his mentors, pianist and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock.

The Journey was produced by Loueke and Robert Sadin, who created some of the album’s subtle atmospherics. Its musical core is the suave yet sinewy rapport between Loueke, the brilliant electric bassist Pino Palladino and the wily percussionist Cyro Baptista. (Loueke’s regular trio mates, Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, turn up on one track.)

“Mandé,” inspired by West African griots, begins with Dramane Dembélé’s pastoral invocation on peul flute, a three-hole flute (also known as a “fule”). Loueke sings on the track, his lyric consisting entirely of the title, a nod to the Mandé people of West Africa. The percussionist on the track is Christi Joza Orisha; the wailing soprano saxophone solo, roughly three-and-a-half minutes in, is by John Ellis. The lilting, bittersweet glow is all Loueke.

Wayne Horvitz, “Northampton”

Speaking of a lilting, bittersweet glow, pianist Wayne Horvitz has a new album, The Snowghost Sessions, due  Oct. 5 on Songlines. Named after the site of its creation, an audiophile studio in Montana, the album contains about a dozen new compositions, a couple of them played twice. They cohere by way of a mood: interior, reflective and proudly self-contained. Consider “Northampton,” which Horvitz originally performed in that northeastern burg, for solo piano and electronics.  

The track begins with the simplest of drum beats, courtesy of Eric Eagle. When the piano melody arrives, cushioned by a low hum of Hammond B-3 organ, the moment registers as a wry soundtrack to whatever quotidian act you may be engaging with: fixing a sandwich, or checking your email. Horvitz’s trio, which also has Geoff Harper on bass, isn’t interested in showing its cards all at once (though a few other tracks do ratchet up the temperature). There’s a laconic integrity in this music, a conviction that sometimes less can actually just be less, to the betterment of all.

Eddie Palmieri, “Sun Sun Babaé”

No, it hasn’t been long since we last heralded a new album by Eddie Palmieri, the ebullient grandmaster of salsa. Two months ago Palmieri, 81, released Full Circle, a program of retooled classics from his book. Now this indefatigable pianist and bandleader has announced an album called Mi Luz Mayor, set for release on December 7 on Uprising Music, an imprint of Ropeadope. News of the album landed a few days ago, along with a lead single, “Sun Sun Babaé.”

The song, a Rogelio Martínez tune associated with Tito Rodríguez and Celia Cruz, rests on a presumption of rhythm churn, which Palmieri is only too happy to oblige. Mi Luz Mayor, which he has dedicated to his late wife, Iraida, consists of music that they loved in their youth. The album features three stellar vocal guests, and on this track the featured salsero is Gilberto Santa Rosa, who comports himself with as much sparkling authority as you’d expect from him.

Tord Gustavsen Trio, “Re-Melt”

The acclaimed Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen came to prominence with an acoustic trio, some 15 years ago. After the untimely death of his bassist, Harald Johnsen, in 2011, Gustavsen moved into other ensemble formats, largely eschewing the arrangement of piano, bass and drums. So one piece of good news about The Other Side, just out on ECM, is that it brings Gustavsen back to the trio fold. Even better: his working trio, with original drummer Jarle Vespestad and fine new bassist Sigurd Hole, operates with a baseline urgency, a sense of having something pressing to say right now. Consider a track called “Re-Melt.”

Gustavsen still has a fondness for cathedral sonorities that ring of the ancients. But here he locks in with a groove, making his band mates equal partners in locomotion. His solo, too, has a feeling of calmly unfolding suspense. There’s more than one good reason to try and catch the Tord Gustavsen Trio on its brief North American tour, which kicks off on Tuesday at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.

Helen Sung with Dana Gioia, “Pity the Beautiful”

Perhaps you know Sung with Words from NPR First Listen or Salon Sessions. A music-and-poetry project in the truest sense, with pianist Helen Sung and poet Dana Gioia in close collaboration, it branches beyond that core, with additional vocals by Carolyn Leonhart, Christie Dashiell, Jean Baylor and Charenee Wade. The first-rate band includes Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and John Ellis on saxophones and bass clarinet, among others, and Sung’s writing is assertive and grounded. This short video, by Yasunari Rowan, adds an additional layer of sensory information to the mix, taking smart liberties with “Pity the Beautiful.”

Sung with Words was released earlier this month, and Sung has been a moving target since: having just wrapped up a run with Coltrane Revisited, she’ll perform this week with the Mingus Big Band (Monday at Jazz Standard); with Leonhart (Thursday at Smalls); and in the premiere of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Ogresse (Friday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). She’ll present Sung with Words on Saturday at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, in Brookville, N.Y.