Leni Stern is one of those musicians who's changing the language of the guitar, in her case by digging beneath and uprooting traditional African styles and phrasings and bringing them across the ocean to shake hands with what American and European axeslingers have been crafting either in their own idioms or in hybridizations. Some of the foremost proponents have been Steve Tibbetts, Bill Frisell, Steve Khan, and others, but, with Jelell, Stern firmly joins ranks in becoming palpably distinctive, developing, after years of working in and around that sphere, a sound that stands apart.
Babacar, my favorite track, particularly struck me as the perfect example of how radically yet how smoothly and subtly she's attained to this. Several times during the song, I was reminded of where Peter Green had been heading when he issued the unjustly ignored End of the Game after experimentations in Then Play On. Not, though, that Stern's occupying Green's old wont; rather, she's gotten to a stratum of thinking and perception that has risen well above norms and thus found itself fusing sonorities with a gravity and novo-authenticity that maps its own territory. It lives, you might say, what it is, and that was where Green had been going before his unfortunate series of mishaps with Vitamin L.
The percussion section in Jelell is extremely important, as essential and vital, in fact, as in Carnatic musics. Not as virtuosic, I rush to add, as the Carnatic mode's norm tends—there are, after all, few Ali Akbar Khans in any modality—but rather in terms of backbone. The percussive elements aren't just the rhythm section, instead they structure the songs top to bottom and all around. Even in such joyous lark-abouts as Demil Tedi, in which primogenitures of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian modes can be detected, the unshakeable architecture of the percussives is defining. No matter where you land in this CD, though, you're going to be captured. I suggest that you might want to follow Babacar with Dimbali Ma and then just sit back into the rest of the disc because those two songs are the perfect doors through which to enter.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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