For her critically acclaimed Dakar Suite (Leni Stern Recordings, 2016), Leni Stern presented her African enhanced sounds with lavish 10-piece orchestrations and arrangements complete with horns and violins. For this 2018 release, Stern's compositions were written specifically for a 3 piece, as opposed to adapting a 10 piece composition. Hence the title.
The "Khavare" (party) gets started with the sabar (a Sengalese drum) cadence of percussionist Alioune Faye. This lively tune is broadened by bassist Mamadou Ba and buoyed by Stern's precise and melodic guitar. The song "Barambai" is based on the chanting and rhythms of the baby naming ceremony in Africa. Joined by accordionist Gil Goldstein, "Barambai" is steeped in character and authenticity.
Stern saves her soothingly beautiful singing voice for the romantic yearnings of "Wakhma." The lines "Tell me, was I the only one to feel this way? Tell me, do you miss me at all? Tell me, are you happy now?" are only a microcosm of the feelings exuded here. Moreover, Stern delivers with such a personal touch you may feel as if she is speaking just to you. She also deftly plays the n'goni (a West African stringed instrument) on this enchanting tune. The symmetry in line and phrasing is exquisite. The song "Calabas" (an African percussion instrument) securely wraps Stern's voice and instrumentation in a percussive foundation. Its incremental build takes us to a surging guitar solo by guest artist Mike Stern (Leni's husband).
A most bewitching piece is "Spell." Spirits, voodoo, jazz, and African rhythms collide in the night at the crossroads. In this vernacular the crossroads are the place you meet at night to ask the tough questions and reach out to the spirit world. The Robert Johnson-penned tune "Crossroads," more famously known as recorded by Cream in 1968, makes reference to these very same crossroads. Singing in both English and African, Stern again plays the n'goni, in this both mesmerizing and beguiling composition.
"Assiko" epitomizes the true fusion of traditional jazz with the sounds of Africa. Stern stretches out beautifully on guitar with some tasty licks. Flanked by Ba's pulsating yet understated bass lines, and driven by Faye's masterful and unrelenting percussion. Instrumentally they play as one, showcasing the fact that Stern, Faye, and Ba have played together for a number of years.
The record finishes as upbeat as it starts. An African legend has it that you can hypnotize and more easily drive away crocodiles from unwanted places with the sound of the drums and chants. "Crocodile" incorporates the chant and beats with Stern's soaring yet tranquil guitar.
Over the past several years Stern has successfully paid homage to our musical ancestors while integrating the complexities of African music with the sensibilities of jazz. 3 is a powerful embodiment and exploration of African roots that takes it to another level and creates a sound, style, and statement that is uniquely her own.
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