Leni Stern's Welcome 'Rain' Thursday, August 15, 2002
Anyone who has heard "Finally the Rain Has Come," Leni Stern's new CD, was aware of the challenge facing the singer-guitarist at Blues Alley on Tuesday night. The music on "Rain," much of it richly atmospheric, is laced with cameos by such top-tier jazz artists as John McLaughlin, Bill Frisell and Michael Brecker. Conjuring a similar sound onstage, in a stripped-down quartet setting, is no easy task.
Stern and her core band worked small wonders, though, by emphasizing the album's entrancing melodies and the always sincere aspects of her songwriting. Stern's warm embrace of pop, jazz and world-beat influences was also well served by her band mates -- fiddler Jenny Scheinman, bassist Paul Socolow and drummer Keith Carlock.
Beginning with "By the Stars Above," modal passages were adorned with exotic tones and surprisingly colorful textures. At one point, Socolow even played bottleneck-style with the drink he had brought onstage, and during the reprises of the album's raga-like title cut and the Gypsy-inspired "Bury Me Standing," the band covered a lot of territory without ever sounding out of its element. Carlock deftly underpinned the moods with everything from droning pulses to chattering syncopations, and Scheinman's fiddle provided stirring counterpoint to Stern's mostly fingerpicked Stratocaster.
While Stern's soprano isn't imposing, it is an emotionally powerful instrument in the right setting. A case in point is "Where Is God," a song inspired by the events of Sept. 11. It's the standout track on "Rain," and in concert Stern infused the ballad with a compelling mixture of tenderness and outrage.
- Mike Joyce