Leni Stern | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Like a chameleon, guitarist Leni Stern keeps changing her stripes. On the dozen albums she's recorded under her own name since the early 80s, the Munich-born Stern has led a fusiony two-guitar band starring Bill Frisell, written punchy instrumentals for more traditional jazz combos, and experimented successfully with various guitar effects. On her 1995 disc Words, she debuted as a vocalist, revealing a steely vulnerability in both her lyrics and her delivery. Last year's Kindness of Strangers (released on Stern's own LSR label) further explores this aspect of her writing; this time, though, she uses synths and backing vocals to frame her singing (as well as her incisive snippets of solo playing), and the quiet, mysterious arrangements recall the work of David Lynch standby Angelo Badalamenti. But while a chameleon's transformations are simply responses to its environment, Stern's willful reconfigurations can actually create changes in her surroundings, onstage and off: for example, her husband, guitarist Mike Stern, credits her vocalizations around their apartment as the main inspiration for his own inventive new disc, Voices. The one thing that hasn't changed throughout Stern's career--though it has certainly deepened and matured--is her guitar style. It's always carried strong echoes of a bluesy folk rock, not only in the contours of her improvised melodies but also in the sparse, reedy timbre she often uses; her current songs further manifest this element in their evenhanded melodies and bittersweet chords. And Stern remains a supremely confident improviser, who apparently feels no need to prove anything to anyone--and as a consequence, quite naturally avoids empty theatrics and distracting clutter. She'll appear here in a trio with drummer Keith Carlock and bassist Paul Socolow, both of whom will provide backing vocals. Friday, October 12, 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ebet Roberts.

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