By Philip Freeman | Published August 2018
Guitarist Leni Stern’s album is called 3 for two reasons. One, it’s primarily a trio disc, recorded with her working band of bassist Mamadou Ba and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Alioune Faye; and two, it’s her third album with them, following 2013’s Jelell (LSR) and 2016’s Dakar Suite (LSR). Like those records, this concise 33-minute album finds Stern exploring unique territory that encompasses blues, jazz, Senegalese and Malian music, and even a little bit of rock.
“Khavare,” the album opener, is a sparse instrumental that recalls Tinariwen’s desert blues, with Faye’s complex percussion underpinning Stern’s biting guitar and Ba’s liquid bass weaving between the two. “Spell,” which features Stern’s husband and fellow guitarist, Mike, combines voodoo rhythms with a loping, twanging melody that recalls the Mississippi blues of the late Junior Kimbrough, filtered through Malian music. The album concludes with “Crocodile,” a gentle, lilting guitar-and-accordion trek, bracketed by percussion and vocal chants. Stern’s own vocals, heard on several tracks and in multiple languages, are gentle, but with a reserved strength. She’s not a showboat; she never shreds, but the statements she makes have that much more impact for the restraint.
3: Khavare; Barambai; Wakhma; Calabas; Spell; Colombiano; Assiko; Crocodile. (32:36)
Personnel: Leni Stern, electric guitar, n’goni, vocals; Mamadou Ba, bass; Alioune Faye, sabar, djembe, calabas, vocals; Mike Stern, electric guitar (4, 5); Leo Genovese, synthesizer (4, 6); Gil Goldstein, accordion (2, 8); Muhammed and Princess Louise Faye, vocals (2, 8).