Born in Munich, Germany, Leni Stern started playing piano at the age of six and guitar at eleven. At seventeen, she formed her own acting company, and her radical productions sold out houses across Europe. In 1977, she turned her attention to music and left for the United States to study film scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Scoring gave way to her love for guitar and in 1981, Leni moved to New York to play in a variety of rock and jazz bands. In 1983, she formed a group of her own with Paul Motion on drums and Bill Frisell on guitar. As a recording artist, she originally made a name for herself in jazz circles (her first nine albums were instrumental,) then crossed her talents over into the singer-songwriter realm, garnering consistent praise in the process. Critics have said her music incorporates “intelligent lyrics and beautifully drawn vignettes” (Washington Post), “crystalline, jazz-meets-blues guitar lines” (Guitar Player), and “thoughtful structure, evocative moods, attention to groove” (San Francisco Bay Guardian).
Five consecutive wins of Gibson’s Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year might make anyone hunker down and focus on going “six for six.” But Leni Stern has always defied expectations, and her diverse, 20-year career in music is a textbook example of growth under a self-imposed fire. From the expert instrumentalist, a singer-songwriter emerged, with observations to share from her travels throughout the world. Stern adds, “Why deny the impulse to put words to these experiences? I couldn’t think of a reason.”
With the 2005 release of When Evening Falls, Stern evoked recent travels to Kenya, India and New Orleans to deliver a haunting singer-songwriter album. Mix in her trademark bluesy guitar solos and the jazz-infused “On The Outside” and “Dancin’ With the Devil,” and a burst of creativity is revealed – ten songs which reflect an artist who has seen the world, experienced life, recorded sixteen albums, and continues to grow.
Indeed, with the 2006 release of Love Comes Quietly, Stern showcases her uncanny ability to paint extraordinary images amid familiar and exotic backdrops alike. The album opens with “Cheyenne,” a rumination on Native American culture, and the destruction and disrepair embodied by the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Stern sings to an apparition, “all I’d ask for is water, send us water...” amid the haunting violins of Ernesto Villa-Lobos.
The release of Alu Maye (Have you heard) in 2007 boldly juxtaposes Stern’s trademark inventive guitar and vocal explorations with the indigenous sounds of accomplished African instrumentalists and singers. The result is at once haunting, exuberant, cinematic, personal and resoundingly assured. Stern has discovered her surest artistic footing in the sahel and savanna of Africa. AllMusic’s Thom Jurek has described Stern as “a musician of uncommon caliber and vision” – this album is sure to validate such an assertion.
She has entered a new phase in her career with this, her twelfth independent release. Stripped of the past large-scale production and heavy overdubs, Sabani offers a musical journey into her more authentic acoustic African experience.
Leni Stern reaches a career high with her soaring new full-length CD, Sa Belle Belle Ba, by showcasing multiple guest performers, highlighting indigenous instruments from Africa and elsewhere, and allowing the collaborative process to shine, Stern has delivered a complex, hard- hitting, funky, Global rocker.