Leni Stern (‘4’ album, out June 19th) – ITW #25

Legendary guitarist Leni Stern releases her forthcoming album ‘4’  on June 19th. ‘4’ is an album recorded with three other musicians and featuring an appearance of her husband Mike Stern.

As our readers know, we love jazz! Beyond our love for this genre, this album and this interview demonstrate once again Leni Stern’s intercultural intelligence and musical thoughtfulness.

Find our two favorite songs off ‘4’ in this article, plus a video of Leni and Mike playing together.

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Our interview with Leni Stern:

Your album ‘4’ is an album with few blank spaces, which is, to our knowledge, not common. Was it challenging to balance the opportunity to produce rich measures with the risk of musical saturation of the space?

Leni Stern: It’s always challenging. With all the new technologies at our disposal now, it’s endless…
But I wanted to make a recording that is replicable in a live situation, with my band. So i stopped when it became clear we couldn’t do it live anymore. Some little details, like the different n’gonies I play on a single track are not reproducible live, but i can come really close with one n’goni.

How does it feel to sing in a language that is not yours, before making it yours? Is it at first magically confusing, rather transcendant, or anything else?

It’s a thrill for me to sing in another language. I actually speak many languages probably because hardly anyone speaks german, my native language. I also believe that the music of a people is reflected or maybe even originates in the language. So, singing Wolof chants over are senegalese rhythm is very organic and easy. Much easier than trying to fit english words over an African groove.

Music is often described as a universal language, but its practice is definitely coded. Are there such things as intercultural miscommunications while playing with band partners born on other continents?

Yes indeed there are. The most famous one is the feeling of the downbeat. In African music the downbeat is hidden, it would be awkward to make it obvious. Most notes are syncopated. My moroccan band mate Brahim Fribgane once said it best:

Where you think it (the time) is, there it is not!

– Brahim Frigbane

I am certain that my European sense of cadence is a mystery to my Senegalese bandmates as well.

Guitar Player once qualified you as a “A genre-defying adventurer”. With your experience and considering the never ending debate on musical crossovers, is the notion of genre even something meaningful for you still?

I always thought that the concept of genre is a bad idea. It is in my opinion impossible and counterproductive to narrow music down like this. That being said, I do recognize that we want to describe music to our listeners with words. Most musicians I love have a wide variety of influences, we may be better served to describe each other by what music we love.

A quick search of your name on YouTube easily directs people to improv sessions recorded with your husband, Mike Stern. Can you still learn from each other after all these years of shared practice?

Mike happens to be an amazing ever evolving guitarist and composer, who spends every free moment practicing, wherever he is. We also have our individual projects aside from playing together, actually we just recently started performing together, we used to only record and go our separate ways. My favorite thing is life is taking lessons. So, over the years I have studied with musicians from all over the planet. And Mike has visited me on my adventures.

Leni Stern, 4.

Leni Stern Recordings (via Megaforce/RED), available now.

Leni Stern album art

Leni Stern: vocals, guitar, n’goni
Leo Genovese: keys
Mamadou Ba: bass
Alioune Faye: percussion
Mike Stern: guest guitar on “Habib”

Recorded by Glenn Ianaro
Mastered by Fred Kovorkian
Produced by Leni Stern

About Leni Stern

Guitarist-vocalist Leni Stern has been on an evolutionary road over the past decade-plus, fusing her long-honed contemporary jazz sound with a deeply felt exploration of West African styles. She has traveled and studied in Mali and Senegal, performing with the likes of iconic singer-songwriter Salif Keita and other African notables. The Munich-born New Yorker’s transatlantic journeys have yielded a fresh, personal idiom, one where progressive virtuosity blends seamlessly with age-old folk traditions. 


Written by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture.

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