Live review: Leni Stern & Adam Levy at the Baked Potato, July 21.


Two electric guitars, Fender and Gibson. Her tone's bright, his round. Her inflections shift more; he camps out on a defined vibrato. Her solo rhythms are more spontaneous, his more measured. She wears beatnik black; he wears Valley checks. They shift easily between rhythm and lead, but you can always tell who's doing which. The contrast makes for a great duo, one with a lot of history.

Every jazz guitar player knows Leni Stern and Adam Levy as individual artists; the percentage of the general population who knows them is about the same as the percentage who can name three signers of the Declaration of Independence. The opportunity to watch them interact ranks as a privilege. But that's why they call this a club.

Having received a scrub the day before, the tiny auld Baked Potato smells less musty than usual. Some of the more insect-eaten posters behind the stage have come down. But the vibe's the same: This is the international home of jazz-rock fusion, where the best guitarists in the world have done what they do.

Stern and Levy switch off, doing songs by both. The theme shakes out as "blues," its roots and mutations.

Levy huffs respectable porch-blues vocals without trying too hard, and his own quiet, Taj Mahal-like "I Put a Spell on You" (not the Screamin' Jay Hawkins howler) has vivid lyrics about Spanish moss and angel wings; he calls Stern a badass after her especially subtle and imaginative string-bending solo, and they finish on a wonderfully complex two-guitar chord utilizing about 10 strings. He smiles when she somehow makes reggae out of his countrified "There's a Light." Throughout, Levy shows that his middle name is Economy, a skill only a few ever acquire.

On Stern's African numbers, she brings up skinny, smiling Massamba Diop (from Baaba Maal's band) to thunder and swoop on talking drum as she attacks her banjolike n'goni with gritty insistence. Levy comes up with a string of wild chords to back her ultrafunky guitar plucking on "Outside Looking In," and somebody drops a metal pan in the kitchen -- "Yeah!" yelps Stern, as if it were just part of the Bayou roadhouse soundtrack. If I didn't know "I'll Be Seeing You" was written before Stern's birth, I would have assumed that its yearning delicacy had been conceived especially for her intimate voice and spider-fingered guitar.

Paying tribute to the venue's reputation for flashery, as a first-set closer Stern and Levy execute multiple difficult unisons on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo." My feet have been tapping nonstop for the whole hour, a reminder that jazz rhythm is not the exclusive province of a dude slapping a traps set.

Tonight, Donald Trump has made a long, angry speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination. After her set, Stern confides that she can't stand to watch Trump. His unexpected level of support reminds her of what her Bavarian grandmother, a milliner who gladly made hats for all the Jewish debutantes, used to say about the 1930s, when the Nazi movement was considered a brutish joke; she called the brownshirt sympathizers "those people." Who are those people, anyway?

* * *