There is something elusive and haunting about Leyla McCalla’s music. You feel as if you are in the presence of a dryad listening to her sing and play. Indeed just looking at her – in performance or otherwise – you feel her breathtaking spirit. Listening to her sing and play is an impossibly beautiful experience. Her cello playing is fresh and innovative. She plucks and strums her instrument and sounds like no one else I know. She plays tenor banjo and guitar with equal facility. Such a virtuoso musician is irresistible even if she does not utter a sound. But she does. She sings in three languages, or maybe four. But that is unimportant. What is significant is that when she does she opens a portal that leads to the magic and mysteries of the world; her world that is deeply rooted in, well, the magic and mystery of Haiti and New Orleans.
You have to be someone special to perform as Leyla McCalla does especially when she reminds us of one of the cradles of African-American music: New Orleans. This mystic disc A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is a piece of white hot and intense expression. It is also and profoundly beautiful and glides from song to song with exhilarating, extrovert and effortless virtuosity. And while you are drawn to the spare, yet glorious instrumentation – sometimes spare and at other times luscious – it is McCalla’s voice that captivates with its gleaming, diamantine purity and dark mystery. The charm of Leyla McCalla may be attributed to that fact that she is steeped in the musical topography of Haiti, New Orleans and to that you might also add New York, although the latter influences (I refer, of course, to jazz) reside I the shadows of this music.
Songs such as ‘A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey’ are imbued with the intensity and imagination of McCalla, something that can only come from heart that beats with the electric impulses of a vast geography. ‘Little Sparrow’ and the bittersweet ornamentation of ‘Maman’ are challenging emotionally and McCalla navigates both with sublime mastery and musical invention. There are also – in her playing, especially on cello – wide ranging dynamics, sudden musical irruptions, and complex rhythmic energy as well which find her inspiring to all of the other musicians as well. Each one of them in turn also captures the lyrical nature of the music and its deep spirit with spellbinding grandeur.
A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is a flawless creation. Leyla McCalla, together with this extraordinary ensemble bring lyricism to the mesmerising repertoire with a lyricism and a powerfully communicative brilliance that make an album that will stick in the memory long after the last notes of ‘Minas Azaka’ have faded into the misty distance of a world that Leyla McCalla has opened up for us to enter into with a certain sense of wonder and ecstasy.
Track List:: A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey; Les Plais Sont Tous Mis Sur La Table; Far From Your Web; Little Sparrow; Manman; Peze Café; Bluerunner; Vietnam; Salangadou; Let it Fall; Fey-O; Minis Azaka.
Personnel: Leyla McCalla: cello, tenor banjo, guitar; Free Feral: viola; Jason Jurzak: bass, sousaphone; Daniel Tremblay: 5-string banjo, guitar, ti fer, vocals (11); Marc Ribot: guitar; Rhiannon Giddens: banjo, violin; Louis Michot: fiddle; Sarah Quintana: guitar, vocals.
Label: Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi
Release date: March 2016
Running time: 39:24
Buy album on: amazon