Afro-robed and cradling her gold Strat, Leni Stern got the kind of enthusiastic, sustained audience response she deserves. Her world sound is no patchwork, it’s a real stew that assimilates all these elements of African rhythm, fusion and blues, open and true enough that only cynics could grouch.
Her band rocked, rootswise. Edwin Livingston’s bass laid down a bottom you could build a skyscraper on, and he whipped out a microtonal bowed solo that was stone freaky, one of the night’s most tingly moments. Brahim Fribgane was such a high priest on oud and dumbek, moving back and forth between strings and drum like a current of air. He backed off a tad from his usual prominence to make room for the djembe and calabash work of Mamadou Makane Kouyate -- a little smiling Afro rock star, tempter of chaos, slapping, tapping and banging loud at the edges of the rhythm till it cracked but didn’t break. Saxist George Brooks sure can play, but his Sanbornish tenor and soprano didn’t quite fit. Like, to me.
Stern’s light, intimate voice lay like rough silk over everyone’s heads, and she enjoyed throwing in a shock once in a while with her guitar work, breaking from her fluid storytelling into a sensually dissonant chord or a junkyard-nasty blues chorus. The Doorsy-Arabic “The End” intro and unsettled darkness of “Love Comes Quietly” remained her deepest emotional devotional.
Did I mention the audience was hooked like a hookah? Oh yeah.
And: Read Burk's story on Leni Stern in LA Times here.