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

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!“
 

Metaljazz.com Live Review: Leni Stern & Emily Elbert at Room 5 Lounge, April 10. by Leni Stern

When perennial guitar star Leni Stern and spring sprout Emily Elbert both slung their axes recently at Montana's Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop & Festival, they spent less time demonstrating fret flash than sharing outdoor adventures. So when the Texas-born, Berklee-educated Elbert returned to her Silver Lake digs, she followed up on Stern's suggestion that they "do a show and get tattoos!" (Inked Thursday, the tats were Elbert's first and Stern's 800th.)

Friday in the tidy upstairs restaurant bar Room 5, Stern, Elbert and New Zealandish electric bassist Ben Shepherd kept jumping on and off the little stage, wailing in solo, duo and trio configurations. Babyfaced Elbert can't be as young as she looks, else she could not have acquired that offhanded ease w/ the vocalise, that natural flex of the funkypickin' wrist or that compositional togetherness. The multiplicitous Stern brought her gold Strat, her n'goni (Afro banjo), her Malified original tunes and her black specs. Shepherd grooved and soloed with polished zip; close your eyes and sometimes you might have thought he was a flugelhorn.

Elbert's songs pulled worlds together -- "Evolve" combined R&B, jazz and reggae while comparing modern humanity to a space between notes; she elevated effortlessly to her head voice on another tune with a nice morning vibe and a high guitar arpeggio; another number put funky chord changes at the service of a folky romantic ballad; the pretty "World Without Your Love" soared high; the rapidly strutting "Visitor" jerked with upbeat subterranean-homesick blackblond jazzitude. Her vocal harmonies blended like ice cream on Stern's songs, even locking in with African dialect at one point.

Stern's plaints of water, wind and sand made for communicative counterpoint. When she sang about a fisherman, her leads leaped like a fish; on "Rabbit," although her chromatic changes darted elusively through the brush, Elbert stayed right in the hunt; Stern's deftly plucked n'goni riffs drove "Still Bleeding"; the New Orleans shoogaboo "On the Outside," as always, made a great case for any musician to throw her own damn party rather than wait for somebody's invitation. Stern added a subtle electronic loop behind her n'goni on the quietly rolling "Like a Thief," and she changed guitar tones on every song, now retaining a storyteller's sense of continuity, now startling the crowd with the boldly outlandish scales she gets away with because her spirit guardian watches over her.

Now that I think of it, these women were casually throwing down a torrent of musical information and inflection that I can begin to absorb only in retrospect. And they had, like, a day and a half to put it together. Huh.

Keep in mind that sharp-eared Stern also befriended Esperanza Spalding when that bass & vocal phenom was hardly a dot on the music-world graph. So if talent counts for anything -- and it does, so shut up, all y' old cynics -- Emily Elbert, who's already logged four independent albums, will be around for a while. And I'll keep grabbing every chance to get an earful of Leni Stern's otherworldly world.

Strings of life: Globetrotter Leni Stern's African Trio by Leni Stern

Santa Fe New Mexican/Pasatiempo
By Paul Weideman

Leni Stern’s music was always good — her fluid, powerful electric guitar exercised in a variety of settings, mostly on her own compositions — but she has really bloomed since she began her collaborations with African musicians. In 2006, the jazz/blues guitarist and singer played the Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu, Mali, sharing stages with Malian pop singer Salif Keita and Baaba Maal, a singer and guitarist from neighboring Senegal. Describing the festival action in an interview with American Blues Scene Magazine last December, Stern said, “Everybody jams! I wasn’t sure what to play, so I tried playing my blues licks, and they said, ‘Oh, she knows Malian music!’ ”

It was one of the first in a sequence of insights she has experienced regarding the similarities between West African music and American blues and jazz. See if you can hear them as well when the Leni Stern African Trio plays Gig Performance Space on Saturday, March 7. One element to listen for is the call-and-response effect. Another, which no one will miss, is the strong, dynamic drumming. “That’s something that’s been so absent in the Western Hemisphere,” Stern said in a recent interview with Pasatiempo. “You also find it in Brazilian music and Cuban music — all these styles that are very shaped by their rhythmic elements.”

She learned a lot from joining forces with three of Mali’s music stars: Toumani Diabate and Bassekou Kouyate and his wife, Amy Sacko. Stern expanded her instrumental repertoire by studying the ngoni, the African ancestor of the American banjo, with Kouyate. Sacko, the lead singer in his famous band, Ngoni Ba, took Stern to local weddings, baby namings, and funerals, where she played guitar using a portable amplifier.

Sacko also told her about West Africa’s griot storytelling tradition, which — like other elements of the music — came to the United States with the 17th- and 18th-century slave trade. The American Blues Scene article recalls the research of folklorist Alan Lomax, who wrote that, “through the work of performers like Blind Lemon Jefferson [and] Charlie Patton, the griot tradition survived full-blown in America with hardly an interruption.”

Back in New York City, Stern searched the African immigrant community, ultimately finding the two members of her current trio: bassist Mamadou Ba, who was once musical director for Harry Belafonte and has worked with avant-garde saxophonist Archie Shepp and Pakistani-American guitarist Rez Abbasi; and percussionist Alioune Faye, who is a member of Senegal’s renowned Sing Sing Five Family Orchestra.

Stern last recorded in Mali during the 2012 coup d’état. “The situation has improved, but tourism is ruined and the music scene is damaged. The big Festival in the Desert is no more,” she lamented. “I like being low-profile, and I go to the part of towns where the ngoni makers are. I quietly slip in and out of the country, but nothing where my face would be on a poster.”

Leni Stern is a traveler. That statement opens her biography at www.lenistern.com and symbolizes her musical openness. Not just blues and jazz and African music, but other music of the world inhabits her sensibility. In 2001, for instance, she spent three months studying ragas in Mumbai, India, and performed at the Bombay Jazz Festival. But her music education began with lessons in classical European piano, at age six. One day, she went up to the attic and found her mother’s acoustic guitar. She tried playing along with her five brothers, but their loud musical antics sonically overwhelmed her. Her mother said they’d have to buy her an electric guitar. That was a Gibson ES-330.

“I was ten years a classical piano player, but that was the formal German training, and on the guitar I could just try to copy things that I liked. Now I wish I had kept up with the piano, but when you are a teenager, all the rules and regulations are difficult. The electric guitar is what I identified with, and I didn’t think the grand piano was going to get me a boyfriend.”

In her youth, Stern worked as an actress on a German television show for a few years, but in 1977 she switched gears, enrolling at Berklee School of Music in Boston. “I was at Berklee for two and a half years. I was shuttling back and forth between Germany and America, then I moved to New York.”

She was in the jazz groove. Joining her for her 1985 debut album, Clairvoyant, were Paul Motian on drums and Bill Frisell on guitar, and Stern later led bands with saxophonist Michael Brecker and guitarist John McLaughlin. More recently, she has worked with a roster that includes bassist Esperanza Spalding and violinist Jenny Scheinman. Stern won Gibson Guitar’s Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year Award for five consecutive years.

At a certain point, she moved from the Gibson ES-330 to a Les Paul model. “From there I went to the Fender Telecaster. I started loving the honking sound of the Fender. It’s so expressive!”

On her first six albums, she was strictly an instrumentalist. (As is her husband, jazz guitarist Mike Stern.) But beginning with 1995’s Words, her records had her both playing and singing. In 1997, she established her own recording company, Leni Stern Records (LSR), which has published all her subsequent CDs. Jellel, her 20th CD, was released in 2013. The title is a phrase in Africa’s Wolof dialect that means “Take it!” or “Seize the moment!” That sentiment truly drives the album: Check out the title-track video on YouTube.

Stern said two of her younger inspirations these days are singer Gretchen Parlato and bassist Richard Bona, who played on Mike Stern’s 2012 album, All Over the Place. Leni Stern guests on her husband’s newest, Eclectic (with Eric Johnson), which came out last October on the Heads Up label.

She is now at work on a new album. “We are, and we will do some of those new songs in Santa Fe. I like to take new songs to live audiences, and they will take shape — in this case, in America and in Europe. Then we will record it in May. I have a lot of wordless songs this time. And a lot of the lyrics are traditional chants. They’re all folk songs that we arrange.”

She will be bringing an ngoni, as well as her Tele-caster, to Santa Fe. “Absolutely, I will. I adapted the ngoni to play my music, and it’s a continuous quest because it lends itself to that very well. I believe when the West Africans were brought here, they had their instruments taken away, and they tried to play on the guitar what they used to play on the ngoni. A lot of the old blues riffs are easier to play on the ngoni than the guitar.”

In West Africa, Stern saw that the musicians string their ngonis with fishing line. “You wind your own strings. Toumani Diabate put harp strings on the kora, so Bassekou and I tried putting harp strings on the ngoni, and Bassekou has both harp strings and fishing line,” she said, laughing. “So now I’m importing harp strings to Mali by the bucket.” ◀

Downbeat Magazine "Six String Summit" by Leni Stern

"And my wife, Leni, happened to be in the studio and we asked her to improvise on the spot a couple of preludes to songs, with her doing vocals and playing the n'goni. I don’t know how she does it with the n'goni—I’m still into trying to figure out how to play the same old blues licks on guitar. We were thinking of doing short vignettes in between some of the songs, but what Leni did was perfect."

- Mike Stern - in the FEB/2015 DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE article SIX STRING SUMMIT, about recording his new record 'Eclectic' with Eric Johnson.