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Leni Stern: Black Guitar

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For 12 years and eight albums, guitarist-composer Leni Stern pursued a jazzy muse. From elegant impressionism (1985’s excellent Clairvoyant with Paul Motian, Harvie Swartz and Bill Frisell) to slamming fusion (1993’s Like One with Dennis Chambers, Alain Caron and Bob Malach), she demonstrated a penchant for melodic sensitivity and evocative harmonies while making some strong six-string statements of her own. A couple of years ago Leni found her voice…literally. She started incorporating a couple of vocal tunes on her regular Sunday night gig at the 55 Bar in New York and eventually began pursuing a very different muse. Following a period of vocal training and some intensive shedding with songwriting partner Larry John McNally, she has emerged as a breathy chanteuse on Black Guitar, her first fully realized showcase as a singer-songwriter.

Though tunes like “Chinatown Revisited,” “Mercy In The Night,” “Mary Magdalene,” “One Day” and the title track clearly fall in the pop camp, Leni imbues them with dusky timbres and a haunting beauty. Her guitar playing is strictly in service of the song on this vocal project, though she does resurrect one of her finest instrumental compositions, “Sandbox,” a tune also once recorded by her chops-monster husband Mike Stern. She offers a pungent solo on the moody “So Good For You” and stretches on the instrumental closer, “Silverline,” a dynamic showcase for Dennis Chambers’ awesome drum prowess.

Leni hinted at this direction on 1996’s Separate Cages, her intimate duet project with fellow guitarist Wayne Krantz. She goes for it with more authority on Black Guitar.