Lionel Loueke CD Release Party
with Gretchen Parlato at the Vic

By LeRoy Downs
October 11, 2006

“I Can’t Help It” if I wanted to and wouldn’t help it even if I could have the opportunity to see these two wonderfully emerging talents every night, “I Got to Be There”. Here is the recipe; add six parts harmony, one guitar from Benin, sweetened with a mild Brazilian seasoning and just a pinch of Hancock. Cook for two sets and walah, a perfect jazz soufflé for the evening!

Tonight is a special evening for many reasons. The first being that this is the CD release party for Lionel Loueke’s new album, “Virgin Forest”. The second is because of the synergy of the audience that is composed of musicians from the Thelonious Monk Institute, as well as various luminaries of the press like Don Heckman of the Times, publicist Karen Nelson from UCLA Live, my boy from elementary school writer Scott Galloway (who wrote the liner notes to the CD), Chris Walker from the LA Jazz Scene and many other fine appreciators of the music. Third is due to a performance that is real, honest, pure and intimate.

Many of us were invited to a beautiful feast prior to the performance provided by Ray Slaton, owner of “The Vic” and lover of great music and Tobias Tanner, president of Obliq Sound. Socializing with this group of unique individuals is like a jazz family reunion. We all know each other and each person respectively is responsible for contributing to the parts that make the whole of the music here in Los Angeles.

After wine and great food we all went up the stairs to settle in for what was to be a super quiet, pin dropping focal point of beautiful musical intimacy. The Vic is set up like in a live performance living room whose candle lit atmosphere is perfect for the precious sound of lovely duet music.

Lionel opens the show solo on his guitar which has a frame yet no body! I, as well as others, marveled at the calming waves of sound bathing our beings with lovely drops of worldly waters. This is a celebration of a man and his music, his journey, his travels, his knowledge and ever captivating creations of emotional harmonic concepts. Joined by a special spirit, Gretchen Parlato's soft angelic vocal qualities, warm as Brazilian breezes, encompass the room and fill our souls with the lovely sound of soft kisses and caressed bodies.

She speaks of how the one and only Wayne Shorter hears in colors and how Lionel totally gets the correlation. When Lionel plays you hear the sounds of villages come to life as he gently caresses the strings of his guitar; a symphony of polyrhythmic splendor.

Musicians, writers, publicists and jazz fans alike make up the mix of this intimate setting. It is wonderful being in a room of likeminded people who all know the music on a very high level; quite a different feeling than just being in a “normal” crowd at any given performance. This is not strange coincidence to Lionel and Gretchen. They are used to performing in front of and playing with the world’s best in the music.

"Doralice" is a piece composed with the flavors of Brazilian multipart harmonies. It is a Portuguese song of love, the love of another and love of the serenity of oneness that exist between a musician and his guitar. Lionel wrote a song for Gretchen which was conceived from hearing the sound of her lovely voice. When I spoke to Lionel, he told me that for him there is no other; there is a special vibe he gets in a duo with Gretchen that he does not feel with any other singer. Even though there is only voice and guitar, the space is filled with layers of harmony. Every inch of O2 is caressed with tones of loveliness.

At the moment, the world outside our musical haven does not exist. Every being in this room has their audible sense calibrated at the highest frequency focused on the pedals of brilliance that are growing and blossoming before us. Duke Ellington’s “Azure” done in re-harmonized unswung 5 is an adult lullaby that is pacifying, warm and emanating with love for the human spirit and soul. I find myself waiting to exhale after every song.

Herbie hops up and does not hesitate to sit in for the title track of Lionel’s brand new CD “Virgin Forrest” on which he plays. The jazz piano master and his students dive in the marvelous melody. Lionel and Gretchen follow that up by performing one of my favorite Herbie Hancock compositions, “Butterfly”

Gretchen’s high school teacher “Mrs. B” is here for the performance as well and she is certainly proud of her former student. She heard the uniqueness of Gretchen’s voice when she was in high school, pulled her aside and asked her to do the Miles Davis piece, “So What”. She nailed it on the first try. That was the beginning and there is no end in sight! She and her musical brother Lionel are two extraordinary talents together and apart. Look for the brand new CD, “Virgin Forrest” on Obliq Sound. The album is currently being released in other parts of the world and it will be available here in the United States in sometime in January of 2007. For now, don’t miss an opportunity to see two of tomorrow’s legends, Lionel Loueke and Gretchen Parlato!