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Leyla McCallaLeyla McCalla
Album: A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey
Label: Jazz Village
Tracks: 12

In 2014 Leyla left the celebrated Afro-American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops to concentrate on solo work, and she's been keeping herself busy promoting her 2013 debut solo album Vari-Colored Songs, an especially powerful mixture of music and message. However, at long last she's found the time to record a followup album, this time in consort with a trio lineup consisting of Daniel Trembley (banjo, guitar), Jason Jurzak (bass, sousaphone) and Free Feral (viola). On this new set, Leyla continues to espouse the themes of social justice and pan-African consciousness and, as befits her heritage, performs a selection of songs sung variously in English, French and Haitian Creole, not least in order to explore her twin cultural identities (in the US, which she's made her home, and her native Haiti). Its proud diversity of expression also extends to the musical stylings on display, thus rendering the disc nigh uncategorisable (compulsive pigeonholers beware!), which is all to the good!

Leyla's cello playing is nothing short of magic: eminently soulful, boldly etched, sturdy in tone and thoroughly idiomatic. And she can turn her fingers to tenor banjo and guitar too, in order to accompany her spellbinding singing voice; just sample her heartfelt cover of Almer Jay's Vietnam, where she has only her guitar and Sabine McCalla's eerie backing vocal for company, or her superlative closely-harmonised duet with erstwhile fellow-CCD member Rhiannon Giddens on Manman (from the pen of Haitian Manno Charlemagne). Even the fuller-sounding cajun-style instrumental complement of Canray Fontenot's Creole waltz Les Plats Sont Tous Mis Sur La Table has that extra degree of closeup intimacy.

The disc takes us on a stimulating and unforgettable journey through Leyla's mixed heritage, from the insistent staccato rhythms of the self-penned title track, via the wittily coquettish banjo-and-sousaphone-driven Far From Your Web (also self-penned) and an emotionally charged rendition of Ella Jenkins' Little Sparrow (featuring some wonderfully lyrical string playing), to a passionate rendition of traditional Haitian song Peze Café (featuring some searing electric guitar work from the legendary Marc Ribot), and finally closes proceedings with the cheeky swaying rhythms of the traditional Fey-O and Minis Azaka (with a guest trumpeter who's sadly not credited on my promo copy). With A Day For The Hunter…, the versatile Leyla has delivered another totally compelling (and impeccably engineered and self-produced) CD whose distinctive character will outlast many a competitor.

David Kidman