Press for "3" by Leni Stern

Guitarist and vocalist Leni Stern has already made a personal study of West African folk music, on albums like Africa and Dakar Suite. Her latest is titled 3 – a declaration of faith in the bond she has with bassist Mamadou Ba and percussionist Alioune Faye. But the album, just out on LSR Recordings, lays out all the proof you need.

– Nate Chinen, “Take Five”, WBGO 88.3 FM

Recorded as if it's right inside your skull, guitarist-singer Leni Stern's long-marinated African trio with bassist Mamadou Ba and hand drummer Alioune Faye brings out the intensity of focused quiet. The rhythms scrub your heart, but please attend the melodic/harmonic element, especially on "Calabas," whose ingenious chromatic progression inspires brilliant solos by Leni and husband Mike Stern – hers delicately twisted, his hilariously crazed.

– Greg Burk, MetalJazz.com

 When it comes to the music of this disc, 3, by Leni Stern, we don’t need logic or any other intellectually-driven impulse. We are driven to “sing” and “dance” to every breathtaking possibility simply because of what is innate in this musical homage; indeed in every sonic image that is presented here by Miss Stern, Mamadou Ba and Alioune Faye. The vitality that comes from it – this music – is awakening, like being impacted by a series of solar flares from the nuclear corona of the sun. And this musical light is so special, so enormous and so dense that it might even enable to walk through a block of concrete should such an impediment arise en route to our celebrating this music . . . through her music and in her sublime artistry – has poured energy into the air around us. We, for our part, become changed forever because of her and the message she brings from Mother Africa.

– Raul da Gama, JazzdaGama

Leni Stern has long been a triumphant voice of inspiration. The truth and steadfast beauty of her lyrics and music has touched many hearts around the world.

Jim Worsley, AllAboutJazz.com

Other newness to get excited about include tracks from Leni Stern’s new album simply called “3”…

Ian Stewart, Community Idea Stations

 Leni Stern continues her journey of successfully melding sounds of Western Africa with American jazz on this latest album . . . takin you on a journey through the Dogon cliffs.

– George W. Harris, JazzWeekly.com  

When Leni Stern recorded her first album as a leader, Clairvoyant (Passport, 1985), she established herself as a lyrical and melodic jazz-rock fusion guitarist whose influences included Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Bill Frisell and Jim Hall. Stern has also embraced everything from pop-rock to world music and her exploration of West African rhythms continues on her latest recording 3

– Alex Henderson, The New York City Jazz Record

She's been making recordings for over 25 years and has won Gibson’s "Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year" award five times. But when Stern met ngoni hero Bassekou Kouyate and his wife Ami Sacko thirteen years ago at Mali’s Festival au Desert, she plunged into the study of the African instrument and started to interpret the rhythms and tonalities of West Africa through a jazz lens.

– John Floridas, “Musician’s Spotlight”, Montana Public Radio

For the past 12-13 years, she has consistently stuck his fingers down to the pot with African honey, and this new album, 3 , is bridge building between modern European / North American jazz and West African rhythms. The music on the album features . . . love for traditions and the ability to innovate.

– Ivan Rod

Leni Stern’s music was always good — her fluid, powerful electric guitar exercised in a variety of settings — but she has really bloomed since she began her collaborations with African musicians.

Paul Weideman, Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasa Tiempo

Few artists unite the American jazz tradition with world influences more effectively than genre-defying guitar adventurer Stern.

Guitar Player Magazine

Blurt Magazine by Leni Stern

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“I focused on the composing”: The gifted, celebrated jazz guitarist talks about her new album 3, additionally outlining her journey to date and the roadblocks—among them, the subtle but inherent sexism that the jazz milieu harbors—she had to overcome. (Photos by Sandrine Lee)

BY ROBIN E. COOK

Jazz guitarist Leni Stern’s musical journey has taken her from her native Germany to Berklee College of Music and the Sahara Desert. She’s a musical omnivore, happily absorbing disparate musical influences. On her new album, 3 (released on CD, vinyl, and digital this past April), Stern taps into African music along with Alioune Faye (djembe, sabar, calabas, backing vocals) and Mamadou Ba (bass). The result is a warm, seamless collaboration—an international sound in the very best sense. Stern talked about her music teachers, her discovery of jazz, and the assumptions that women in jazz still confront today.

 

BLURT: Could you give me some idea of your background? You were an actress before you became a musician, right?

STERN: Well, I was always a musician, but I also had a love for acting, so I actually had two roles in the acting company that I founded. I was a musical director and I was an actress. And I wrote music for theater and created music for film. But I was always a little singer-songwriter with a guitar and many songs that I wrote. And many Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan songs that I sang. The theater composing and film composing really took off, so I came to America because I had heard of a school in America—Berklee College of Music. It had an association with a film school, where you could score the student films and you could use all the musicians in the college to write your scores with. So that sounded perfect. And it turned out to be perfect.

So the music sort of took over from the acting. But I still worked as an actress. I was a VJ for BET—Black Entertainment Television—for many years. I went back and forth to do an acting project every once and a while. But it’s really hard to do both at the same time. And I really wanted to perfect my music in many directions, so I would take guitar classes and then I started playing percussion and took percussion classes. And I took singing classes and composition.

And also I married another guitar player—Michael Stern. And he didn’t want to move to Europe. And I actually liked America. I never decided to stop acting. And I would act again if there were an opportunity that is compatible with my music and touring and recording schedule. And right there is…a problem because I am now playing with many bands and I have my own band and many recording projects, so as it is there isn’t enough hours in the day. (laughs)

 

You’ve been working with African musicians lately. Could you tell me a bit about that?

You know, I had on my bucket list these festivals I want to play, and one of them was the Festival in the Desert, in the Sahara Desert, because it’s four hours away from any civilization. I had seen a film about it. And I said, “Okay, I want to play this festival.” And I got to play at the festival. And I met a lot of African musicians that asked me to play in their bands. So I ended up spending a lot of time in Africa and playing in that style of music, because they were interested in my guitar style. African guitarists play different. It’s not, how should I say? It’s a different kind of guitar, it’s different sound on the guitar. It’s a more percussive sound. They love our rock and blues sound, or jazz soloing. They love that. So they invited me to play in their bands, with them, to create a mixture of styles.

And I just did my best to learn their approach to it. It was a very cool exchange, because they were flipping out over my playing and I was flipping out over theirs. It was a continuous “Show me that!” “No, you show me that!” (laughs) “No, you show me that!”

I started writing in that style and combining our musical principles with theirs. In my band, I have two master musicians from Senegal and they all play in western bands because they’re based in New York. They’re originally from Senegal and they’re familiar with the rhythms of Africa, particularly Senegalese music, which is my project 3, what my new record is all about.

When you first came to American and to Berklee, was there a huge culture shock?

Yes, there was. There was, but I loved America. You know, Germans love American culture, because you liberated us from fascism, and protected us against the Russians. Now you got your own Russian problem, but you know, we were very afraid. I mean, there’d been a war for our main cities. The Americans protected us.

My mother was so happy when I married an American. I mean, I thought she’d be more unhappy about me being far away, but just the fact that I married an American…American culture, especially in Munich, was very present, ‘cause Munich had an army station and it had a big band. And all the musicians in the big band played in the jazz clubs around Munich.

When did you transition to playing jazz guitar?

I always loved jazz. I was a blues guitarist first. My little brother had an immense influence on me because he was an avid record collector. And he was crazy about certain things. If you wanted to make him freak out, you’d scratch one of his records. He would lose it completely. And he had an amazing blues collection. Like John Mayall. The English blues guys. But also like Mississippi John Hurt. He was a keyboard player. He is a keyboard player (laughs). He’s a very good keyboard player!  I played the guitar and he played keyboards, so I had first dibs at the blues, because those were guitar records that he was imitating on the piano. And I thought like, “Oh, I win. I got this! I got the blues!” So that’s how it first started.

And then I started hearing Wes Montgomery and jazz musicians. I was very intrigued by the way they could play long solos.

 

Just curious: was that the first instrument you started playing—the guitar? What was your first instrument?

My first instrument actually was the recorder. All German children played the recorder. And then I played piano. Because that’s also sort of a tradition in Germany, because it allows you the easiest way of understanding harmony. And we have a very big repertoire–classical music–that we’re very proud of. Generally in school, music is like a very important subject in school in Germany. If you flunk music, you have a problem, you know. It’s a major subject in school, just like math or history. And you have to sing in this choir, whether you can sing or not. And so it’s really encouraged to play an instrument. I played piano and classical music, but I always had a love for the guitar. And my mother had a guitar, so I took that guitar and I taught myself how to play it. But then she kind of realized after a while that my love was for the guitar.  So she organized for me to have guitar lessons. Classical guitar lessons. But I had a very understanding teacher. She was good with teaching kids. And she said, “What would you like to play?” And I played the blues for her. She said, “Oh, that’s so interesting!” She said, “So expressive”! She was a real artist. She encouraged me to play guitar and sing the blues. And I was like, eleven.

She had her soirees of all her students. Some of them would sing a classical repertoire. And I would get to sing the blues and play guitar.  But I still played piano at the same time. But the guitar was always my reward. If I finished my classical repertoire on piano, I could play guitar all I wanted. And then when I was fourteen my mother bought me an electric guitar and an amp to go with it, so that I could play with my brothers. Nobody could hear me in my acoustic guitar. So she bought me an electric guitar.

I know that you’ve been asked this before, but women playing jazz guitar is still very infrequent. Have you had people who ever tried to discourage you?

All the time. All the time. I actually just came from playing in [jazz pianist] Monica Herzig’s band.  And we were exchanging stories. And it’s funny how people insist that you are a singer. A guy in the audience came up. It was one of those universities. Monica is a professor at Indiana University. It was one of those university guys that came up and said, “Yeah, I’m here to see Monica Herzig. She’s the singer, right?” I said, “No, she doesn’t sing at all. I don’t even know if she can sing! She’s a pianist and a composer!” And he said, “Really? I thought she was a singer!” And I said, “What makes you think that she’s a singer?” And he said, “Well, I dunno, she’s a singer!”

We think that women are supposed to be singers. Even though there is no recording of Monica ever singing.

 

I imagine you must have had to learn how to take all that in stride. How did you deal with those reactions from people?

I founded my own band. Because I’m also a composer. Sometimes I think sometimes that’s my biggest gift, is composing. ‘Cause I’ve been composing since I’m very little. I didn’t call it composing, I would call it making songs, when I was six. “Make a song!” (laughs) And I was encouraged by my teachers. I had very, very special teachers. They were great artists themselves. And I guess they were entertained by me. My piano teacher—I really didn’t want to read. I really didn’t like to read. It had nothing to do with the music for me. And she recognized that I felt music deeply. So she didn’t scold me. She said, “What did you do at the piano?” I said, “I make up songs.” And she said, “Oh, so you’re going to be a composer! That’s easy!”

So you know, I focused on the composing. And actually, there’s been a lot of discrimination against women composers, too. Most of the people who know Mahler, for example, didn’t know that his wife was an equally good composer.

I came from a panel at South by Southwest and there was a guy that performed at the same showcase we played last night, and he was very funny. He said, “I was so surprised!” And I said, “How come you were so surprised?” And he said, “You look like a nice mommy, a nice lady, and then you come out onstage and you play like panther!” And I said, “That’s a very nice compliment!”

So I guess people still, when people see me, they assume I’m a nice mommy! Even though I have a side shave and a head tattoo. (laughs) That’s what we’re supposed to be! And they can’t imagine that we would be a complete human being with all sorts of feelings inside ourselves. You know, it’s very difficult. But I see it getting easier for the next generation. Because people like me raised the next generation of children.

All About Jazz: review of "3" by Leni Stern

By JIM WORSLEY
July 21, 2018

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.

Track Listing: Khavare; Barambai; Wakhma; Calabas; Spell; Colombiano; Assiko; Crocodile.

Personnel: Leni Stern: electric guitar, n'goni, voice; Mamadou Ba: bass; Alioune Faye: sabar, djembe, calabas, voice.

Title: 3 | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Leni Stern Recordings

All About Jazz - Michael Bailey by Leni Stern

Leni Stern
Leni Stern:3 with Mamadou Ba and Alioune Faye 
Self Produced
2018

Traditionally, the most percussion-rich jazz music has been that infused with Caribbean and Latin influences. Guitarist Leni Stern has been studying West Africa as an alternate source of percussion driven music ever since having made the acquaintance of Massekou Kouyate and his wife Ami Sacko at the Festival au Desert in Timbuktu, Mali almost 15 years ago. That meeting led to Stern's swan dive into the culture, language, and music of West Africa and the intervening years of study have led to 3 with Mamadou Ba and Alione Faye. While Stern is the ostensible leader of this date, the recording is very much rooted in the percussion of Alioune Faye. To be sure, there is American (or better German-American) jazz here, but it is woven deeply into to the fecund rhythms of West Africa, her two musical partners coming from Senegal. Stern plays with a graceful restraint that augments and enhances the percussive elements of the performance. Integral to this percussive approach is the rhythmic anchor provided by bassist Mamadou Ba, whose Sympatico with Stern is palpable throughout. Stern's singing offers an interesting seasoning to the project, both in English and Senegalese. This recording is something larger than mere "World Music." It has a savory depth that is purely spiritual.

https://www.allaboutjazz.com/seven-women-plus-three-2018--part-vii-allegra-levy-by-c-michael-bailey.php

 

Metaljazz.com/Greg Burk - Spring Record Shorts (review) by Leni Stern

Metaljazz.com by Greg Burk and friends

Leni Stern, "3" (LSR). Recorded as if it's right inside your skull, guitarist-singer Leni Stern's long-marinated African trio with bassist Mamadou Ba and hand drummer Alioune Faye brings out the intensity of focused quiet. The rhythms scrub your heart, but please attend the melodic/harmonic element, especially on "Calabas," whose ingenious chromatic progression inspires brilliant solos by Leni and husband Mike Stern -- hers delicately twisted, his hilariously crazed.

http://www.metaljazz.com/2018/06/spring_record_shorts_burn_the.php

Jazzdagama by Leni Stern

By Raul da Gama
https://jazzdagama.com/

Logic ought to tell us that if all life and all civilisations came from Mother Africa, then so also does the impulse to “sing” and “dance” the rhythm that we hear in all music that pays her homage. When it comes to the music of this disc, 3, by Leni Stern, we don’t need logic or any other intellectually-driven impulse. We are driven to “sing” and “dance” to every breathtaking possibility simply because of what is innate in this musical homage; indeed in every sonic image that is presented here by Miss Stern, Mamadou Ba and Alioune Faye. The vitality that comes from it – this music – is awakening, like being impacted by a series of solar flares from the nuclear corona of the sun. And this musical light is so special, so enormous and so dense that it might even enable to walk through a block of concrete should such an impediment arise en route to our celebrating this music.

 

Just by listening to the music of 3 one experiences Miss Stern, who is completely transformed by the touch of Africa. From “Khavare” to “Calabas” and “Crocodile” the guitarist becomes an artist who even in the ordinary act of fingers on strings is able to impregnate each twang with an extraordinary note. Strung together with others in a chord, a phrase or a line, Miss Stern’s music grows in intensity to become that unstoppable force that she has become. The simple phrase in “Wakama”, for instance, continents collide and a melody expands in beauty, becoming a gushing ecstasy.

Similarly, when her fingers bite into the strings again in “Calabas” shadows and shining surfaces reveal themselves. The song contains darkness but in its revelation of anti-light the flicker of synapse between us and the African sun comes into being. And we are awake and alive again in a way that is somehow different to the way we have been a moment ago. It is as if her, as everywhere else Miss Stern – through her music and in her sublime artistry – has poured energy into the air around us. We, for our part, become changed forever because of her and the message she brings from Mother Africa.

Track list – 1: Khavare; 2: Barambai; 3: Wakhma; 4: Calabas; 5: Spell; 6: Colombiano; 7: Assiko; 8: Crocodile

Personnel – Leni Stern: electric guitar, n’goni and voice; Mamadou Ba: bass; Alioune Faye: sabar, djembe, calabas and voice; with Mike Stern: electric guitar (4, 5); Leo Genovese: Sequential Circuits Six-Trak synthesizer (4, 6); Gil Goldstein: accordion (2, 8); Muhammed and Princess Louise Faye: backing vocals (2, 8)

Released – 2018
Label – Leni Stern Recordings
Runtime – 32:38

Jazz Weekly - Review - George Harris by Leni Stern

Leni Stern: 3

by George W. Harris • May 14, 2018 •

Leni Stern continues her journey of successfully melding sounds of Western Africa with American jazz on this latest album. She sings and plays both guitar and the Malian n’goni as she teams with Mamddou Ba/b and Alionue Faye/perc-voice along with guests including husband Mike Stern.

Some of the songs are filled with traditional sounds with pieces like “Khavare” while things get a bit more modern with Mike Stern’s electric guitar along with Leo Genovese’s synthesizer on Calabas” while Gil Goldstein/s accordion and Muhammed & Princess Louise Faye’s vocals on “Barambai” and “Crocodile” add extra mystique from the Sahel Desert. The sound is spacious and uncluttered, takin you on a journey through the Dogon cliffs.

http://www.jazzweekly.com/2018/05/leni-stern-3/

Kansas City's KUAW - 98.5 FM by Leni Stern

German-born Veteran Jazz Guitarist Leni Stern

Welcome to a new edition of the Neon Jazz interview series with Jazz Guitarist Leni Stern .. She talked to Neon Jazz from her home of New York City about growing up in Germany .. and her newest album called 3 – She discussed a great deal about her music life .. getting into music .. playing with the likes of Paul Motian and many others .. She’s got a very rich road paved in jazz artistry .. with much more to do ..

Click here to listen to the interview.

Santa Fe Arts Journal by Leni Stern

Soothing Sounds from Senegal

The Leni Stern African Trio fuses jazz and blues with traditional African music

April 30, 2018 by Emily Van Cleve

For more than a decade Leni Stern has been immersing herself in the traditional music of Senegal, which has complicated polyrhythms unfamiliar to most musicians trained in Western music. 

“Our European musical rhythms didn’t start getting complicated until the early part of the 20th century,” says Stern, a well-trained jazz singer and guitarist who was born in Munich, West Germany and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “What I’m interested in doing is finding a bridge between European culture and African rhythms. I’m just scratching the surface.”

Stern, along with longtime musical collaborators Mamadou Ba (bass) and Alioune Faye (sabar, djembe, calabas) forges a unique sound that fuses jazz and blues with Senegalese folk music.  

The Lenis Stern African Trio presents music from Stern’s latest album “3” as well as tunes from previous recordings at GIG Performance Space on May 19.

“3,” which was released at the end of April, pays homage to the drum patterns of traditional Senegalese folk songs. Stern describes what emerges as a new repertoire of cross-pollinated ideas with reverence to jazz, blues, Africa and folk music of today’s diaspora.

Ba, a bassist of Senegalese origin, has been an invaluable source of inspiration and information about Senegalese music for Stern. So has Faye, who was born and raised in Senegal and comes from a long line of drummers.

“I also travel all around Africa regularly,” Stern explains. “I have many teachers there.”

A musician who began taking piano lessons at the age of six and guitar lessons by the age of 11, Stern formed her own acting company as a teenager and performed in front of sold-out European crowds. In 1977, she moved to the U.S. to study film scoring but once in the states decided to focus on music. She settled in New York City in 1981 and has called it home ever since.

Stern has been awarded the Gibson Guitar Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year five consecutive times. In March, she was selected as an official showcase performer at South by Southwest, an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences in Austin, Texas.

WBGO by Leni Stern

Leni Stern, “Khavare” By Nate Chinen. 4.30.2018

Guitarist and vocalist Leni Stern has already made a personal study of West African folk music, on albums like Africa and Dakar Suite. Her latest is titled 3 – a declaration of faith in the bond she has with bassist Mamadou Ba and percussionist Alioune Faye. But the album, just out on LSR Recordings, lays out all the proof you need.

Its opening track, “Khavare” (“Party”), incorporates a cooled-out melody against a Senegalese mbalax rhythm. Stern plays a brief solo, unhurried and clear, without overshadowing the cadence of Faye’s sabar drum. Elsewhere on the album, there are tracks that feature Stern’s vocals front and center. But here we get a simple distillation of the trio’s rapport, honed by and large at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village — where they’ll play an album-release show next Tuesday, May 8.

http://wbgo.org/post/take-five-watch-cameron-graves-take-orbit-and-follow-several-guitarists-around-globe#stream/0

Montana Public Radio: Leni Stern Makes A Musical Statement, Merging African Music And Jazz by Leni Stern

“It has always been a political act, a practice in strength and defiance, to be a woman and a bandleader, a female electric guitarist and composer, who puts out her own albums and manages her own career..."

Those are the words of Leni Stern, German-born, New York-based electric guitarist, singer and composer.

She's been making recordings for over 25 years and has won Gibson’s "Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year" award five times. But when Stern met ngoni hero Bassekou Kouyate and his wife Ami Sacko thirteen years ago at Mali’s Festival au Desert, she plunged into the study of the African instrument and started to interpret the rhythms and tonalities of West Africa through a jazz lens.

Stern isn’t just a composer, bandleader and featured musician; at the age of seventeen, she formed her own successful European acting company before studying film score composition at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and moving into jazz and rock performance. She owns her own record company, LSR, and teaches and performs around the world.

Stern’s website states: “In our current political climate, it is now even more essential to celebrate the immigrant experience that brought Leni Stern to the U.S. from Germany and her African bandmates from Senegal and to revere the diverse languages which she speaks and sings in. It is Leni’s unique goal to trace the interconnectedness of music, history, and our humanity.”

(Broadcast: "Musician's Spotlight,"  3/15/18. Listen on the radio Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., or via podcast.)

Doing Jazz Podcast / January 2018 by Leni Stern

Leni Stern has made her marks in the world of jazz with her trademark inventive guitar exploration and her unrestricted sound that perfunctorily makes use of her diverse musical and cultural influence. Join Leni and Lorens as she talks about microphones, artist grants, African music, self-releasing a record, and many other important yet fun stuff. (Music credit: ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Mercy’ by Leni Stern). - Lorens Chuno

Listen to the podcast!

MetalJazz.com Live review: Leni Stern African Trio with Adam Levy at Blue Guitar/Greg Burk by Leni Stern

You never know whom you're gonna encounter at a Pasadena golf course, but a guitarist from Bavaria and a bassist and a drummer from Senegal rank low on the probability scale. Their convocation was realized via a guitarist from the San Fernando Valley, though, so, y'know, music unites.

The union of improbabilities and the international scope qualify among the many reasons to catch Leni Stern the couple of times per year she hits SoCal, but this occasion adds a layer of Chandleresque mystery. You drive winding roads along a scenic South Pasadena ravine. You get lost and double back, arriving at Arroyo Seco Golf Course. You pick up your sandwich and booze from the functional café. Just off the putting green, you enter a bare-bones room with a few chairs, tiny tables, and a red velour curtain that looks like a magician's backdrop.

The magic starts with "If I Were Crazy," its plucky African Strat/bass unison riff followed by Mamadou Ba's blazing bass solo – this lanky watcher requires no warm-up. Stern finds her high vocal range and strokes entirely different guitar patterns behind Ba and the happy-swatting hand-drum solo of Alioune Faye.

Stern's new "Get Together" has a jerky rhythm and a zesty bridge; her solo is a complementary melody in itself, and when Faye launches his drum storm she pitches in on calabash, her earthy slaps accented by the metallic click of a ring on her hand.

Stern introduces her "favorite guitarist" (sorry, Mike), shortbrim-hatted Adam Levy, and they build up a display of jumpy riddim and tangled interplay – Levy full & fluid, Stern cutting, wide-ranging and subtly inflected. Put these two in a DMV and they could create a mood.

No point in spelling out every detail of "Tuareg Dance," "Mercy," "Thief in the Night," "Still Bleeding" or "The Cat Has Stolen the Moon," but amid all the aching balladry and ribcage-rattling beatdown, a few things stand out in memory. Like the way Levy's mischievous string bends exquisitely torture the scales. Like Ba's use of an electronic octave effect to give his improvisations a ghost dimension. Like Faye's wide smile as he disrupts the molecules of his sturdy skins. Like black-clad Stern's vigorous rattle shaking, soulful n'goni fingerwork and eyes-closed vocal star search, and the African scene she describes when fishermen dumped their whole day's catch rather than accept the price the middlemen were offering. Not to mention the occasional mistakes, delectable because they show that this music is bursting fresh from the players' hearts and hands, never to be repeated. Some improvisers play slicker; no one plays better.

A local couple, regulars at this hidden den, approach me at the set break after noticing my notebook. Expressing admiration for Ba's rapidly articulate note-shaping and amazement at the whole presentation, they wonder why Leni Stern is not a little more famous. I can't answer that.

Guitar Player Magazine - May 2017 by Leni Stern

Few artists unite the American Jazz tradition with world influences more effectively than genre-defying guitar adventurer Stern.  Whether she's playing on her own solo albums, or on Eclectic (the collaboration between Eric Johnson and her husband, Mike Stern), captivating rhythms, memorable melodies, and the tantalizing tones of a wide range of stringed instruments are her raison d'etre.

Jazzthetik Magazine - September/October 2016 Feature by Angela Ballhorn by Leni Stern

Leni Stern - Die vielen Leben der Magdalena Stern

Mittlerweile sind Leni und Mike Stern seit drei Jahrzehnten verheiratet, reisen jedes Jahr nach Indien und machen viel Musik – in je eigenen Projekten. Zusammengespielt wird nur zu Hause. Dass Leni Stern sich nach Fusion- und Singer-Songwriter-Phasen seit Längerem auf anderen musikalischen Wegen befindet, erzählt Mike Stern regelmäßig stolz. „Du musst hören, wie Leni Ngoni spielt!“ Mittlerweile ist Leni Sterns neue CD Dakar Suite auf dem Markt, und die Gitarristin schildert auf Tour mit ihrem Trio mit Mamadou Ba (b) und Alioune Faye (perc) ihren Weg zur afrikanischen Musik. „Ich bin ja schon eine Weile in der afrikanischen Kultur unterwegs. Vor Jahren wurde ich zu dem berühmten Friedensfestival in die Wüste eingeladen. Da sind viele Musiker hingefahren, um auf das Schicksal der Tuareg aufmerksam zu machen. Wir haben dort ganze Nächte durchgespielt, ich lernte Bassekou Kouyaté kennen und habe mich in die Ngoni, die afrikanische Gitarre, verliebt und die Ursprünge des Blues erforscht. Ich habe mitgespielt und wurde gelobt, wie toll ich malische Musik spielen könne.“

Dass sie diese Musik noch nie gespielt hatte, verriet die Münchner Gitarristin nicht. Im Blues kannte sie sich aus, und dass der Blues und die Musik Malis so viele Gemeinsamkeiten haben, wunderte sie nicht lange. „Die Bluesriffs, die wir kennen, stammen tatsächlich aus der malischen Kultur, die mit den Sklaven nach Amerika gekommen ist. Der Ursprung des Jazz und des Swing liegt da.“ Leni Stern konnte schnell ein Album aufnehmen, da sie in einen Wettbewerb rutschte, den die UNESCO für Salif Keita förderte. Dessen Plattenfirma hatte einen Wettbewerb für junge Toningenieure ausgerufen, die besten fünf durften mit Keitas Technikern lernen. „Die UNESCO hatte für dieses Projekt keine Band organisiert. Da ich beim Festival war, baten sie mich, mit den Festivalfreunden ins Studio zu kommen, damit sie jemanden zum Aufnehmen haben. Alu Maye war mein erstes afrikanisches Album. Ich bin in die USA zurück, habe noch gemastert, Mike Stern und Michael Brecker haben noch gespielt. Die ganzen Jazzmusiker waren begeistert, weil sie wie ich diese Sprache des Jazz entdeckt haben.“

Ziemlich schnell kehrte die Gitarristin nach Afrika zurück. Salif Keita fand die zierliche Jazzmusikerin so gut, dass er sie in seine Band holte. Ganz nach Afrika umziehen wollte sie nicht, weil sie ja einen Mann und eine Karriere in New York hatte, wie sie lachend betont. Aber sie fuhr regelmäßig nach Mali und in den Senegal. Bei Salif Keita lernte sie viel. „Wir waren in seiner Band drei Gitarristen, und die anderen beiden sind die größten afrikanischen Gitarristen. Für die Soli wollte Salif den amerikanischen Sound und hat mich nach vorne geschoben.“ In einer Frau sahen die afrikanischen Musiker keine Konkurrenz. Dadurch bekam Leni Stern Sachen gezeigt, die männlichen Musikern nie gezeigt worden wären. „Die haben mir lange nicht verraten, wie die Ngoni gestimmt wird. Irgendwann hieß es: ,Meine Kleine, komm her, ich zeig dir das.‘ So bin ich in die Geheimnisse afrikanischer Musik eingewiesen worden. Jetzt sagen meine Musiker, dass ich wie eine Afrikanerin spiele. Als Jazzmusiker ist das nicht so schwierig, weil wir offene Ohren haben. Man kann nicht genau aufschreiben, was wir da machen, das ist dem Jazz sehr ähnlich. Als weiße Frau mitten in der afrikanischen Tradition zu sitzen und die Geheimnisse zu lernen, da wusste ich gar nicht, was das für ein Privileg ist. Es ist irrsinnig kompliziert, auch wenn es vermeintlich einfache Volksmelodien sind. Mike hat auf der neuen CD mitgespielt und musste immer wieder nach der Eins suchen. Normalerweise ist er der Chef der Gitarristen im Hause Stern, momentan bin ich es!“

Leni Sterns Mission ist es, den Blues zurück nach Afrika zu bringen. Die Riffs der alten Bluesmusiker kann man alle in der afrikanischen Musik finden. Sogar die ungewöhnlichen Arten, das Instrument zu stimmen, haben die Blueser übernommen. Auch eine bessere Funkgitarristin ist sie dadurch geworden, weil man keine Akkorde auf der Ngoni spielen kann. Viel gelernt hat Leni Stern über ihre fantastischen Mitmusiker: Mamadou Ba, musikalischer Leiter bei Harry Belafonte, lernte sie in New York kennen, leichtfingerig flitzen bei dem Bassisten die Hände über das Griffbrett. Er stellte Leni Alioune Faye vor, der aus einer großen Perkussionsfamilie kommt. „Meine aktuelle Platte habe ich mit seiner ganzen Familie aufgenommen, mit sieben Perkussionisten. Ich hatte so eine Power hinter mir, es fühlte sich an, als ob mich die New Yorker Subway schiebt.“

Mittlerweile besinnen sich einige Jazzmusiker auf afrikanische Musik, doch Leni Stern ist eine Vorreiterin. Sie war wirklich an den Quellen, hat gelernt, wie die Musik weitergegeben wird, ohne notiert zu sein, hat die Sprachen gelernt und sich einen Platz als weiße Gitarristin in den männerdominierten Bands Afrikas erarbeitet. „Bei meinen Stücken ist afrikanische Musik die Grundlage, bei den meisten anderen ist es Jazz mit African Flavour. Und wir haben Texte, die ich in Wolof, Bambara und Yoruba singe. Ich war in den Bands, habe die Sprachen gelernt, bin über die ganze Westküste von Afrika gereist und habe dort Konzerte gegeben. Meine Reise geht weiter!“