Though she's married to guitar monster Mike Stern, who puts the fear and sweat in even the best axehandlers on the planet, a guy Miles Davis chose for his fierce chops and intelligence, Leni Stern has never felt the least necessity to walk in Mike's shadow and has ever been quite the eclectic, so much so that she formed her own label (LSR) in order to pursue her muse unfetteredly while simultaneously featuring other unorthodox creatives. Known for her guitar work, which can be stunning (catch Winter for an example), in 1997 Stern turned more fully to her voice as well with Black Guitar. In Smoke, No Fire, though, she combines both talents with an ingenuity that sneaks up on Ry Cooder's, Daniel Lanois', Taj Mahal's, Joseph Shabalala's, and Ali Farka Toure's.
Thre's a story to this CD. While recording it in the capital of Mali, Bamako, the city entered a period of chaos and tension, locked down and fearful. Nonetheless, the sessions went forward, and the outside unrest ratcheted up every sense of urgency and verve in the disc's music. This is underscored by the dominant presence of African instruments, including Stern's own daunting work on the n'goni (pictured on the flip side of the liner, a string instrument with a koto-ish flavor). Even more strikingly, Mike sits in on Lomeko and his solo greatly favors Leni's n'goni work. The instrumental Tou Samake then becomes almost Carnatic as Ben Holmes' trumpet dubs in a Western flavor calling to mind some of Robert Wyatt's arrangements in handling African strains, maybe a trifle of Penguin Cafe Orchesra as well.
Smoke, No Fire is a CD absorbed in art, not a second holding any commercial concerns, but the collection of songs is a statement of the vitality of a section of the world currently caught in the cross conflicts which occur whenever world capitalism shifts its devouring eyes to the exploitation of new resource centers (and John Perkins years ago wrote of Africa's real problems in international-capital underpinnings, so you might want to check his books on empyrean fevers). More, should this mode catch you, then also refer to Habib Koité & Eric Bibb's Brothers in Bamako (here) for a satiny diffusion of the region's stylings.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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