152

Leni Stern: Africa

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Leni Stern: Africa While her husband, guitarist Mike Stern, has been bringing a fascination with the music of Africa to his own projects since the early part of the decade, they've always remained undeniably jazz recordings, with conventional instrumentation. Guitarist/vocalist Leni, on the other hand, has made a more definitive dive into the continent's musical pool with Africa.



Leni Stern's early records were, like Mike's, more definitively jazz-centric, but in recent years she's evolved into a singer/songwriter, albeit one with more chops and an affinity for electric guitar. Recorded largely in Mali, with additional sessions in Senegal and San Francisco, Stern's writing for Africa could easily be envisioned in other contexts, but with a group of largely African musicians playing instruments including variants of the n'goni (a stringed instrument ancestor of the guitar) and assorted percussion instruments, Africa possesses a cultural authenticity, despite Stern and some of her American cohorts, at times, taking the music a little westward.



Stern possesses a voice bordering on the fragile—somewhat reminiscent of Robin Holcomb but with its own quiet strength—and meshes beautifully with vocalist Ami Sacko and her husband, n'goni player Bassekou Kouyate—both Malian stars in their own right—who help define the overall texture of Africa. Co- writing with Sacko, the lyrics range from English to French to Arabic and Bambara, with music ranging from the hauntingly plaintive "Saya (Farewell), dedicated to the late percussionist Don Alias, and the folksy "1000 Stars, for the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, to the more groove heavy "Keita and "Simbo. Brecker can be heard on "Saya and the more upbeat "Ousmane, recorded before he passed away in January, 2007.



As a guitarist, Stern is remarkably malleable. Her clean, warm tone on tracks including "Ousmane clearly comes from immersing herself in the tradition, while on the djembe and talking drum-driven "Alu Maye she draws a line to the blues, bending notes and interacting with Kouyate's n'goni and a chorus of vocalists. Stern adopts a grittier tone that's fitting for "Childsoldier the most overtly political song on the disc.



While ethnic instruments pervade the music of Africa, drummer Will Calhoun provides a largely restrained pulse on songs including "Forest Song, the brief instrumental closer that features Stern trading off with Kouyate, and grooves in-the-pocket with bassist Paul Socolow on "Keita, which features another gritty solo from Stern.



Music aside, it's storytelling that's at the core of Africa Stern's writing has always been more about narrative rather than personal confession, and it's that same aesthetic so endemic to the music of Mali that makes it such a perfect fit for Stern. An album of complex emotional depth, Africa stands as one of Stern's finest to date, a perfect confluence of lyrical substance and instrumental excellence.

Track Listing: Bamake; 1000 Stars (for Michael Brecker); Keita; Simbo; Ahinin Be Al Allah (Lord Have Mercy); Saya (Farewell) (for Don Alias); Aman Iman (Water is Life); Ousmane; Alu Maye (Have You Seen); Ami; Dakkan (What is Written); Childsoldier; Forest Song.

Personnel: Leni Stern: guitars, vocals, backing vocals; Ami Sacko: vocals, backing vocals; Yagar Damba: vocals (1); Mah Soumano: backing vocals; Dally Kouyate: backing vocals; Keith Fluitt: backing vocals; Morley: backing vocals and rap; Bassekou Koouyate: djili n

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Leni Stern Recordings


comments powered by Disqus

Shop

More Articles

Read Neko CD/LP/Track Review Neko
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 25, 2017
Read Alcanza CD/LP/Track Review Alcanza
by Troy Dostert
Published: May 25, 2017
Read New Life CD/LP/Track Review New Life
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 25, 2017
Read A Social Call CD/LP/Track Review A Social Call
by James Nadal
Published: May 25, 2017
Read The Big Wig CD/LP/Track Review The Big Wig
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 24, 2017
Read The Dreamer Is the Dream CD/LP/Track Review The Dreamer Is the Dream
by Mark Sullivan
Published: May 24, 2017
Read "Stille Post (Radio Works: 2003-2011)" CD/LP/Track Review Stille Post (Radio Works: 2003-2011)
by Mark Corroto
Published: July 17, 2016
Read "B3tles: A Soulful Tribute To The Fab Four" CD/LP/Track Review B3tles: A Soulful Tribute To The Fab Four
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: April 6, 2017
Read "Woodclock" CD/LP/Track Review Woodclock
by Eyal Hareuveni
Published: July 2, 2016
Read "88" CD/LP/Track Review 88
by Mark Sullivan
Published: October 24, 2016
Read "Time Out" CD/LP/Track Review Time Out
by Sacha O'Grady
Published: July 9, 2016
Read "Binary" CD/LP/Track Review Binary
by John Sharpe
Published: January 21, 2017

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, hide slide-outs, and provide read access to our future articles.

Buy it!