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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Guitarist Lionel Loueke is shaking up the New York jazz scene with his unique sound. It combines post-bebop fusion, lyrical ballads, even African rhythms and melodies. Loueke's new CD is called "Mwaliko," and reviewer Banning Eyre says it's his best work yet.

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BANNING EYRE: Lionel Loueke is fluent in African, bebop, and Brazilian rhythms. He might play simple folk chords, then stretch them into elaborate re-harmonizations. He might sing in his deep, velvety baritone, then pluck out clear melodies on his nylon string guitar before layering on effects that make it sound more like an organ. And all that in a single song.

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EYRE: That's Loueke's longstanding trio who contribute three of the 12 tracks on "Mwaliko." Most of the others are intimate duets with freethinking young players like bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding.

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EYRE: Or drummer Marcus Gilmore, who anchors Loueke's take on Wayne Shorter's brooding classic, "Nefertiti."

(Soundbite of music, "Nefertiti")

EYRE: Loueke's mentor, Herbie Hancock, calls him fearless, a musical painter. Hancock loved Loueke's music from the start because, as he put it, no territory was forbidden and that includes Africa.

Loueke was born in Benin, not a country known for its jazz. A lot of good African jazz players wind up in Europe or the U.S., where they strive for a Western sound and leave African music behind. Not Loueke.

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Mr. LIONEL LOUEKE (Musician): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: This duet with Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona draws on the palm wine guitar style: very old school and very sweet. Better still is Loueke with vocalist Angelique Kidjo, also from Benin, reworking the Afropop hit "Ami O."

(Soundbite of song, "Ami O")

Ms. ANGELIQUE KIDJO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Loueke's take on "Ami O" is explosive and exuberant. It honors the simple charm of a popular dance song, gracing it with subtlety and sophistication without a hint of a superior air. That's unusual and just one example of Loueke's ravenous stylistic reach.

No territory forbidden is a kind of jazz credo but a tough one to live up to. Lionel Loueke walks the walk, and "Mwaliko" solidifies his standing as a truly original voice in today's jazz.

(Soundbite of song, "Ami O")

Ms. KIDJO: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed "Mwaliko" by Lionel Loueke.

(Soundbite of song, "Ami O")

Ms. KIDJO: (Singing in foreign language)

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