If one key to a great dance is having the right partner, it must be a doubly (maybe even exponentially) better key to have several. Leni Stern began something of a sequence by forming a new trio for the straightforward 3 (LSR, 2018) and expanding to a quartet with 4 (LSR, 2020). The same group has further gelled, and everything is even more delightfully fluidthe sound palette from dusty guitar to sleek piano with some occasional n'goni harp for flavor, the constantly bubbling rhythms and melodic jazzy interplay, and the players themselves as they smoothly dance through it all.
While the trio-cum-quartet sounded plenty spirited before, there is an especially tangible and contagious joy through the program here. Leo Genovese feels completely settled in with the group, spurring the others with one frisky piano solo after another after another, while Mamadou Ba's bass and Elhadji Alioune Faye's rainbow of percussive colors offset the South American-flavored keyboard work with the deep rhythmic spice of their native Senegal. The group's ecstatic chemistry is something special, and getting out to rehearse and record after months in quarantine left them keenly ready to enjoy every moment.
Stern happily leads from the middle as always, without needing to stand out. Her weathered singing voice remains pleasantly rough around the edges, which is just right for the unpolished overall tonethe slinky opener "Yah Rakhman" dripping with the mystery a prayer deserves, "Koni" becoming prettier the more it stays simple and wistful, and the sort-of-scatty "Adjouma" simply playing with sounds for the sheer fun of it (a reflection of the cultural melting pot that is their home base of New York City).
While Stern's singing is as simple as needed, her guitar matches the others for smart sharpness as they continually bounce off one another with glee. Even the slower moments are subtly sunny underneath, while the particular highlights "Kani" and "Khale" have them all scampering like youngsters in a playground. This Dance is the best kind of response to times of isolation, celebrating the pure joys of connection and packed with life in every moment.