By Paul de Barros | Published August 2020
Leni Stern’s fourth album with bassist Mamadou Ba and percussionist Alioune Faye continues an unlikely winning streak for this fusion guitarist who’s created her own brand of music. If you love the wail of Youssou N’Dour and the jangle of Franco Luambo, but also have a soft spot for música popular brasileira, this multilingual, crisply produced, infectiously melodic and rhythmically percolating album is for you.
Particularly fetching is the ballad featuring thumb piano, “Chartwell”—named for Thomas Mapfumo’s longtime mbira player, Chartwell Dutiro—on which Stern sings wordlessly and plays guitar with lyrical joy. “Habib” is also a standout, with composer Ba contributing a Jaco-like electric bass solo and Stern’s husband Mike soaring lyrically on reverbed guitar. On this track and others, the band creates tension with polymetric lines that are as tricky as the overall production is spare, a unique combination that gives Stern’s albums their unique flavor. You can taste it right from the start, as the hefty “Lambar” roars in like Weather Report in a poppish mood.
“Serrer” hits hard, too, with burbling keys and slapping percussion, while Nigerian jùjú music inspires the dark feel of “Miu.” Stern turns tender on the elegiac “Amadeus” and the gorgeously falling melody of “Zamba 264,” one of two tunes by keyboardist Leo Genovese; his other contribution being the deliciously sinuous “Japalema.” Genovese, a frequent Stern collaborator, is a highlight throughout, on both acoustic and electric.
At just under 39 minutes, 4 is a short trip, but it covers a crazy quilt of musical and linguistic territory.
4: Lambar; Amadeus; Serrer; Miu; Japalema; Chartwell; Habib; Zamba 264. (38:45)
Personnel: Leni Stern, vocals, guitar, n’goni; Mike Stern (7), guitar; Leo Genovese, keyboards; Mamadou Ba, bass; Alioune Faye, percussion.