Tri-C JazzFest Review: Lionel Loueke Trio at MOCA Cleveland

MOCA Cleveland

Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art hosted Tri-C JazzFest’s Lionel Loueke concert

I have a not-so-secret obsession when it comes to organizing things. I feel bad sometimes for Scott who has to put up with my unquenchable urge for lists, schedules and Google Docs (though he does admit he’d be lost without them).

The funny thing is that I wasn’t always like this. My parents lovingly (and sometimes worriedly) called me Space Cadet for the first 2 decades of my life.

But then a switch flipped after college and lists were how I got myself through the day. I like things orderly and prioritized – and I sometimes fear a tiny part of me would fall apart if I had to go cold turkey without my planner.

Lionel Loueke at Tri-C JazzFest

Lionel Loueke at Tri-C JazzFest

There is one part of me, though, that prefers chaos over order – and that’s when I’m listening to music. When things aren’t fitting in their little square checkboxes and I need to quiet my brain, my favorite music to turn to is jazz.

With all its frenetic energy and sometimes maddening cacophony, I can focus just on unpacking all the sounds and find some temporary solace.

That’s why – after a particularly stressful week – I was happy to attend Tri-C JazzFest’s Lionel Loueke Trio concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art last Thursday.

MOCA Cleveland

I love the inside of MOCA – the sharp lines and splashes of color are so dynamic

After a late dinner, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore MOCA. So after a quick peek at a bit of the museum, we took our seats in the Gund Commons.  It was a great choice for this concert – a stark backdrop that allowed the music to stand on its own without distractions.

Willard Jenkins, the artistic director of the JazzFest, introduced the evening’s performers, commenting that they had picked MOCA to complement the Lionel Loueke Trio’s edgier sound.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but out walked a quiet, gentle-looking Loueke. With a simple Namaste bow, he picked up his guitar, followed by Michael Olatuja on bass and John Davis at the drums.

We listened for a few moments to what simply sounded like them tuning their instruments and warming up.  But then all of a sudden, what seemed like a random assortment of notes turned into a wild, visceral piece of music.

Which was the way most of the evening shaped up. Loueke has been described by his mentor Herbie Hancock as “a musical painter.” Very fitting, considering how his music unfolded at MOCA – mesmerizing you into a groove broken by a surprising splash of color like a dramatic drum beat or high-energy solo.

Lionel Loueke Trio at Tri-C JazzFest

Lionel Loueke, Michael Olatuja and John Davis performing at Tri-C JazzFest

And the trio were seamless in their improvisation. Even when the sound of an ambulance driving by threatened to disrupt the momentum of one of the songs, the music flowed around the siren – with it becoming yet another (albeit, unintentional) layer to the song.

What I enjoyed most, though, was being introduced to the sounds of Loueke’s native Benin in West Africa.

Describing his most recent album, Loueke writes on his website: “I have two heritages. One is from my ancestors from Africa, and that goes through my music, my body, my soul, every aspect of what I do. But also I have the heritage from the Occident, from the West, from Europe and the U.S. I speak English, I speak French, and I have that heritage too. I called this album Heritage because I’ve been blessed by all different parts of the world, and most of the songs reflect that.”

His song “Ife” started with a bit of percussive guitar layered under vocals spoken in Yoruba. Incorporating a lot of the electronic distortion he’s been using recently in his music, Loueke then warped the sound of the vocals, echoing them on top of each other to achieve something a little strange, but very cool.

The joy for performing this music that Loueke, Olatuja and Davis showed (especially Olatuja’s beaming smile!) was contagious – lifting me up as I left the MOCA that night.

MOCA Cleveland

MOCA Cleveland at night

From Aaron Neville & Dr. John to the iconic Natalie Cole, it’s been a great year for Cleveland’s annual jazz festival.

If you haven’t been able to a performance yet, there’s one last chance to enjoy the 2013 Tri-C JazzFest:

On May 4, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra will present a special concert at the Tri-C Metro Campus Auditorium. This performance from the Grammy-winning 13-piece collective is a don’t-miss, celebrating the rich sounds of traditional Latin jazz.

The concert starts at 8:30pm and tickets cost $30. Learn more and order tickets at

Disclosure: I was invited to attend a Tri-C JazzFest concert with a guest in exchange for hosting a giveaway and reviewing the concert. All opinions are my own.

2 thoughts on “Tri-C JazzFest Review: Lionel Loueke Trio at MOCA Cleveland

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