The life of jazz

Adetutu Fagbenle

The Lionel Loueke Trio gives Lafayette a memorable performance

What is jazz? Jazz, to me, is life, and life that is lived to a beat.

The Lionel Loueke Trio, made up of three exemplary jazz virtuosos, graced this campus with their presence Tuesday night. The three met at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and they are as international as it gets. Guitarist Lionel Loueke hails from Benin, and studied in Ivory Coast and Paris. Massimo Biolcati, the trio’s bassist, is a Sweden-born Italian. Ferenc Nemeth, who plays the drums, is from Hungary. They have toured around the world, and continue to dazzle audiences at every show.

I arrived at the Williams Arts Center, more excited for a performance than I have ever been before. The seats filled up quickly. The doors closed, and the maestros stepped onto the stage. As they readied their instruments, I looked around me and felt the air in the room, both heavy and light with anticipation.

The musicians were both lost and found in the silence before sound. Then everything came in, in a fantastic crash of sound, as Kerouac once said. Crazy crashes of sounds emptied into the room as they began their warmup piece, filling the place with music I could barely keep up with.

In between the predetermined notes, the musicians were free to play as they pleased. The night went on, with three opening pieces as vibrant as any critical essay by jazz genius Ralph Ellison. The fourth piece of the night was soft and steady—a welcome repose from the ups and downs of the first three. It reminded me just how powerful music has the potential to be.

It was lovely to hear to hear West and South African sounds, even as we hear of much pain that mars post-colonial Africa.

At one point, Loueke made his guitar sound like an organ and I thought, “Is there anything he cannot do?” The piece he played then, a solo, sounded like that which would accompany a funeral procession. All three heads were bowed, as solemn as solemn can be. Their instruments were down too, but not out. The bass and drums, though strangely silent, somehow still looked alive. The audience understood, and the silence in the room was sacred and undisturbed. However, the trio would not stay on one theme for too long. After the Funeral piece, they played an upbeat number. After sadness, as in life, should be hope.

 

At one point, when the three were wholly absorbed in one another, I felt like I was intruding on the coolest basement jam session in underground history. They were unafraid to laugh out loud, or smile unabashedly. They were completely vulnerable to the scrutiny of our eyes and ears, and somehow still managed to have fun. They murmured audible words of approval to each other, which drifted off the stage, settling between the seats.

After starting the sixth piece of the night, Loueke motioned to the audience to clap in time. We became the heartbeat of the living thing that was the theatre, at once sounding like we were in a concert hall in Manhattan, and then a jazz café in Rio de Janeiro. This, I think, reflects the mastery and art of being a world-class musician; to be able to mold any space with one’s music—to transcend location and time.

The connection between the three was evident. They fused genres, effortlessly—from country to hip-hop to jazz and back again. This chemistry between musicians comes only with time. Sixteen years, in the case of the trio. Their talents go beyond skill; creativity and a limitless imagination are what define their playing.

Why is life jazz, you may ask? In Life, we are born, and we die. These phenomena will happen, whether we accept them or not. But something magical happens in between those two inescapable events. And through all of it, we must improvise and find new ways not just to survive, but to live to our ever-changing beats. It is the dash in between the dates on one’s gravestone that matters most, and just how it is filled.

The trio played at the 55 Bar in New York City on Thursday and will be in PA once more, on April 18.