in performance: raul midon and lionel loueke

Raul Midon (left) and Lionel Loueke.

Just before handing over the stage to the co-billed Raul Midon at the Singletary Center for the Arts on Saturday evening, Lionel Loueke offered a friendly warning.
“He’s going to freak you out.”
Well, he wasn’t kidding. The resourcefulness of the New Mexico-born Ridon was quickly revealed in a vocal command that shifted from a high soul falsetto to a punctuated scat that mimicked a trumpet. Then came instrumental fireworks that allowed him to synchronize acoustic guitar and percussion with eerie harmonic clarity.
But native West African native Loueke (he was born in Benin) was no straggler, keeping pace with a lone 7-string electric guitar that implemented a series of bending, flexible rhythms that echoed his homeland. But he was equally comfortable slapping out bass and lead lines in several tunes by one of his principal influences (and employers), Herbie Hancock.
This is what unfolded in an immensely distinctive 90-minute performance at the Singletary’s intimate Recital Hall. On their own, which is how they played for the bulk of the concert, both sounded like self-contained combos.
Loueke’s initial set, especially, introduced a light but authoritative electric guitar voice full of worldly lyricism that he illuminated with whispery vocals propelled by clicks and punctuation made with his mouth and tongue. Such design was introduced on the show-opening “Bennie’s Tune,” although it would be utilized throughout the concert.
When Loueke turned to a pair of fusion pieces pioneered by Hancock during the ‘70s (“Hang Up Your Hang Ups”) and ‘80s (the genre-busting “Rockit”), though, the mood and moves turned to Americanized funk that the guitarist produced with the integration of bass patterns and percussive colors generated by slapping and tapping the strings. Curiously, the other Hancock entry, “Driftin’,” dated back to the pre-fusion year of 1962 and was draped with the same world music sway that distinguished Loueke’s original material.
Midon’s set shifted the focus away from West Africa into waters of bossa nova (“I Love the Afternoon”) and, more fleetingly, flamenco (“God’s Dream”). But on more robust pop/soul originals like “Pedal to the Metal,” “Bad Ass and Blind” and an extended take of “State of Mind,” Midon’s one man band intentions took over. His vocal charge playfully mutated into the trumpet mimicry while his leads on acoustic guitar intensified, especially when Midon mixed in simultaneous percussion on bongos.
If there was a drawback to the performance, it was that the two only occasionally played together. The few times they did, however, were sublime. The best instance closed the show, with Midon and Loueke tempering the tone in their playing for a lovingly patient reading of “My One and Only Love.” It was a stately display of two seemingly disparate stylists communicating with a keen and common tongue.

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