Loueke, Biolcati and Nemeth Knit Together Identities as Gilfema


Bassist Massimo Biolcati (left), drummer Ferenc Nemeth and guitarist Lionel Loueke pool influences from different parts of the world as members of the trio Gilfema.

(Photo: Seiichi Nitsuma)

Gilfema—the trio of guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth—is set to issue Three, the group’s long-awaited followup to 2008’s Gilfema + 2. Released on Sounderscore, Biolcati’s new label, Three features the ensemble in complete control of its sound.

“This is the first time we followed the recording process from beginning to end,” said Loueke about the album, which is set for release April 3.

Months of emailing, Dropboxing and uploading charts and demos culminated in a single marathon session at New York’s Sear Sound. But the studio date was only half of the creative process. As producer, Biolcati found himself meticulously crafting different sections of the record—and sending more emails to his collaborators for input and musical enhancements.

Before they headed back into the studio to record and produce Loueke’s forthcoming solo release, the guitarist and Biolcati spoke with DownBeat about groove, lineage and the Gilfema identity.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Odd meters and deep grooves feel integral to Gilfema. Do you have a shared philosophy about how groove relates to rhythmic complexity?

LL: That’s a good question. Basically, we like to make what is complex sound easier. I personally don’t want to listen to music that sounds like math. So, that’s the goal, either harmonically or rhythmically.

MB: That’s always been a focus. Rhythmic complexity can be very cerebral and intellectual—kind of cold. Same with how very advanced harmonies can shut the listener out. So, we always try to find something for the listener to hold on to. If you give it a second listen or third listen, you hear layers of complexity.

Any great record can sustain multiple listens. We can listen to Kind Of Blue a million times and always hear something new. But at first listen, “Oh, it’s such a warm sound, and it grooves and it’s swinging.” That’s something we strive for.

Is that something the three of you had to intuit while playing together over the years?

LL: Now, it’s organic. We just go for it. But at the beginning, it was something we used to discuss. We don’t do that anymore; we just try to feel the music in the most natural way possible.

“Little Wing” is Gilfema’s first “cover,” and spotlights a melody line split between bass and guitar.

LL: That was a beautiful arrangement done by Massimo. I like how the melody is divided. When he sent us the demo, Ferenc and I were not sure what meter it was [laughs]; it did feel good, but I personally wasn’t sure. And that happens a lot with us—with anyone’s composition or arrangement. That’s the beauty of this trio. And it’s very different, of course, from the demo version Massimo sent us. That’s the way it should be.

Speaking of taking chances: Massimo, what prompted you to set up Sounderscore?

MB: I wanted to get control of how the music is presented to the world. With labels, you cannot really decide what you wanna do. “Do we wanna spend more money on advertisement?” ... Also, some of the older labels are not staying up to date with social media, where most people “hang out” these days.

Do you feel the intermingling of folkloric sounds in Gilfema is result of everyone growing up in different parts of the world?

LL: I think we influence each other. I can recognize some of the origins of those rhythms from Africa. And what we don’t have in Africa that they do [in Hungary, where Nemeth was raised,] are the odd rhythms—singing in 7 or 5. It’s very rare in Africa. We do maybe have that in the North—some rhythm in 5—but most of the time it’s related to 3/4 or 4/4. When I met Ferenc, I discovered a lot of Eastern European music that’s helped me to start composing in odd meters. Before I was just composing 6/8, 12/8 or 4/4.

Is challenging traditional conceptions of the genre part of the Sounderscore identity?

MB: Absolutely. We need labels to categorize stuff in our brains, so naturally that happens in music—and being a business, even more. But we are all from different countries and we spend a lot of time here in the U.S., where we musically grew up together. I want the label to reflect that [vastness], and Gilfema is the perfect example.

Lionel, what ideas were you working out for the recording as they relate to your guitar?

LL: On most of my records, I play six-strings. [On Three, I’m] playing seven-string nylon. When I play seven-string, I have to adjust—harmonically speaking—how I voice my chords; how I play the melodies; when I double the bassline. How do I do it? Where do I do it?

So, that was my own challenge, but I wanted to play something different.

You guys threw down one marathon session in the studio. How did that setting help fuel the creative process?

LL: It reminds me of our first Gilfema [release in 2005]. There’s not much time to think. When the music is fresh, you really go for your first instincts, and I think that’s what we did here. We exchanged demos, so we did our homework and we did the rehearsal the day before, and then just recorded everything in one day. It’s something I don’t think we would be able to do if it was the first year we were playing together. It’s been 20 years, so we kind of know each other. And I think we also compose having in mind each other’s approach to the music. That helps the music stay fresh.

MB: We all have different styles, but the thing we have in common is that we write for the trio. Having known each other for well over 20 years now, we know the sound of the band, and what can sound good. So, it’s kind of fun to write with a clear goal in mind. Everyone is so accepting and so open, the music grows the moment we start playing it. DB

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