For her twenty-second record as a leader, Leni Stern
entitled the album 4
(LSR, 2020). No mathematical difficulties here. With the addition of keyboardist Leo Genovese
, her band now comprises four musicians. Stern's longtime contributors, percussionist Alioune Faye
and bassist Mamadou Ba, formidably round out the quartet. You may recall her last album, sans Genovese, was the engagingly spirited 3
Moving on to geography, the Argentinian born Genovese adds a South American influence that intertwines with the African tinged fusion. He manages to bring a new element to the mix without disrupting the previous groundwork. The trio now lives and breathes inside the quartet. Faye and Ba have been playing together since the late 1800's (just making sure you are paying attention). Their pocket is as wide as it is deep. Faye distinguishes the sound with his mastery of an array of traditional African percussion instruments.
History has shown us though, that it is Leni Stern that once again brings her magic and special spirit to 4. Her first immersion into Africa and its culture resulted in her epic Africa
(LSR, 2007). Several more dynamic jazz and African fusion adventures have followed. Leni Stern fans have come to have high expectations, as she always delivers. She manages to reinvigorate the pleasingly familiar with the boldness of new, unexpected, and uncharted waters. 4
is no exception. It is, exceptional. Eight original songs, five written by Stern, each have their own heartbeat. Stern's uplifting "Lambar" melodically greets us at the door with Stern's ever soothing voice giving way to a center stage that welcomes Genovese and his keyboard wizardry. Stern follows with an intriguing guitar run in this high spirited homage to her much beloved Mali. Mali is her home away from home in Africa. In "Amadeus" the hue of Stern's magnificent octave moves gently along Genovese's piano solo before Stern's most intelligent guitar renderings. This is a wistful and lovingly composed and played song in honor of Stern's now twenty-year old and much-beloved cat, Amadeus. The imagery of the "Serrer," long time indigenous people of Senegal, is penned by Stern and captured by Faye's sprightly rhythmic percussion. Movement is signified with a brief guitar wave splashing into Stern's ever poetic n'goni. "Serrer" is perhaps the most representative tune of the quartet expressing as one with Ba and Faye pulsating an infectious vibe.
Stern's African lyrics softly ease into speaking poignantly with her guitar on her tribute to "Princess Miu." This feline princess is the newest member of the Stern household and a playmate for Amadeus. Stern makes every note count while Faye cleverly reaches another dimension without leaving this one. Ba leads us on safari in "Japalema." This Genovese written sojourn has Faye ultimately closing with a traditional African voice chant. There is much going on in this juggernaut, including a dynamic piano run from Genovese and yet more innovative guitar work from Stern. The leader's exquisite "Chartwell" begins with Stern's softly whispered voice bridging into her melodic mood enhancing guitar and a serenity that is met in kind by Genovese. Ba's strong and earthy bass line is uniquely bright and unifying.
A high-speed percussion led jaunt is fortified by Faye and Ba in the form of the Ba composed "Habib." Ba poured his heart and soul into this composition that memorializes his lifetime friend and fellow bassist, Habib Faye (no relation to Alioune). Ba spiritually seizes the moment to stretch his wings before giving way to guest guitarist Mike Stern
(also known as Leni's husband). The virtuoso adds empathy to his stellar and limitless chord patterns leading into a well-conceived synthesizer groove from Genovese. The album closes with Genovese's "Zamba," in which Leni Stern leaves us with her sensitive and heartfelt phrasing eloquently supported by her band. Her tasty and buoyant guitar snaps build and shift attentively. This piece utilizes and incorporates the many strengths of this quartet.
It didn't take a scientist to discover within her debut album, Clairvoyant
(Passport Jazz, 1986), that Stern had the chops and sensibilities to ultimately make her own identifiable statement. She has followed her own path, over the past thirty-five years, unruffled by industry or societal pulls. 4 is the next chapter of a sojourn that she has movingly shared with us all along the way. Her spirited compositions, her sweet and passionate phrasings, and her instrumental integrity on both guitar and n'goni have gloriously lit up her well-chosen and spiritually enlightened path. A beautiful record, 4
embraces both the heavenly soul and the on- going limitless adventures of Leni Stern.
Lambar; Amadeus; Serrer; Princess Miu; Japalema; Chartwell; Habib; Zamba.
In addition to electric guitar, Leni Stern is a vocalist and plays the n'goni.