Lionel Loueke, Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth Return as Gilfema For First Time in 12 Years with Third Album, Three
Out April 3, 2020 on Sounderscore Records
Album is trio’s most vibrant, groove-heavy meld of jazz and world influences yet
Prior to Three, out April 3 on Sounderscore, the guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth hadn’t released an album as the cooperative trio Gilfema since 2008. But to call that gap a hiatus, or to tout Three as a comeback, is to discount the travel, experience and growth these globally minded musicians have accrued over the past 12 years—as respected leaders and collaborators away from the Gilfema lineup, and together as Blue Note recording artists under the moniker of the Lionel Loueke Trio.
As the New York Times once put it, the members of Gilfema are part of an informal movement of international artists who “have shown that jazz can assume a range of dialects without losing its essence.” But even within the globalism that defines jazz in the 21st century, Gilfema’s pancultural reach was more profound than most bands: Loueke grew up in the West African nation of Benin before he relocated to Paris and the States to pursue music; Biolcati was born in Sweden and raised there and in Italy; and Nemeth is Hungarian. That brilliantly multicultural vibe, forged in the modern-jazz incubator of New York City, is still front and center, but it’s now more bracing and communicative than ever. Without tempering the musicianship and rhythmic sophistication that has defined the trio, Gilfema delivers an album for improvised music’s current crossover moment—a smart, vibrant, all-embracing brand of improvised music you can dance to.
“Since the original Gilfema records, we’ve played in a lot of different situations and traveled to Africa,” Biolcati says, pointing to the album’s frequent blends of highlife and 21st-century jazz. “It was astounding to us that many times we would play some very rhythmically complicated, advanced stuff and people would really start to move. So that’s something we’ve been pushing to develop more: the roots and the grooves.”
Not surprisingly, Three was crafted using methods that maximized spontaneity and unadulterated creativity. Tunes were traded between members for inspired collaborative revisions, and then passed through a filter of longform jamming in the studio. With Biolcati as producer—a Gilfema first—the album was tracked during one marathon, freewheeling single-day session. The results of those 12 hours were then edited, refined and manipulated in post-production. Think of legendary producer Teo Macero’s cut-and-paste style with Miles Davis’ electric music.
Like Gilfema’s effortless, seamless use of complex time, this post-production approach comes across as wholly organic. All the lyricism and nimble interactivity longtime Gilfema fans appreciate remains.
Among the album’s highlights is the group’s first
cover, a take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” infused with
African rhythmic flavor; remarkably, the band recasts it in their image butretains
and accentuates the original’s gorgeous harmony. Nemeth’s hard-driving,
heavy-grooving “Happiness,” another apex, blends sounds from classic
world-influenced fusion (think Weather
Report) with Afrobeat. The album opener, Loueke’s “Têkê,” is quintessential Gilfema: Its bassline’s rhythmic kinks will pique Berklee students’ curiosities, but that complexity takes a backseat to how inviting the track feels overall. Biolcati plays electric bass—another first for a Gilfema record—and Loueke returns to nylon-string guitar, after devoting much of his recording and performing work in recent years to the electric guitar.
The chemistry on display throughout Three has been nearly two decades in the making. The three met and began playing together in Los Angeles, as part of the class of 2003 at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Gilfema developed further after the musicians had moved to New York, and the band debuted with a self-titled album on ObliqSound in 2005; Gilfema + 2, featuring guests Anat Cohen and John Ellis, followed in 2008.
As Loueke’s star ascended and he became the most celebrated guitarist of his generation, Gilfema took on the role of the Lionel Loueke Trio with recordings including the Blue Note releases Karibu—“an eloquent fusion of jazz and Afro influences,” per NPR—and Mwaliko. On the former, the band collaborated with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Throughout the Loueke Trio projects and performances, longtime Gilfema devotees noted how the group’s deeply egalitarian energy didn’t change with Loueke at the helm. The following year, reviewing Gilfema + 2, NPR commented, “Gilfema stands out for its flexibility. The point is not to geo-tagthese songs with the country of origin for each contributor, but to hear three modern musicians sharing their talent.”
Three is both a testament to the band’s progress and an expression of the core principles thatmade Gilfema so buzzed-about when they premiered over a decade ago. “We definitely have more experience now,” Loueke says, “so the way we approach the playing is also different.
Which kind of reminds me of the first Gilfema
—kind of naked and simple. … I feel like we went back to that with all of the knowledge and truth of the years.”