Bentley’s Bandstand: Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, Kelly Ryan

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig, Nonesuch Records

For those who are fans of deep folk music from the 1930s, the Carolina Chocolate Drops might be déjà vu in an almost mind-warping way. These young musicians have totally taken the Piedmont style of black string music and given it a bit of a modern twist — just enough to sound contemporary, really, without hipping it up too much. If anything, the trio stays very close to home of the original sound, one that comes from the rural parts of those Eastern mountains, where people played on front porches and in open fields for the fun of it. When recording equipment first appeared, it was almost like a visit from the far-off future. Fortunately, Justin Robinson, Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons aren’t afraid of the challenge of honoring the past while delving into the present. They are absolutely fearless in resurrecting the classic music of Etta Baker, Papa Charlie Jackson, the Harlem Hamfats, Annie Briggs and others. When the Drops began in 2005, they made weekly pilgrimages to fiddler Joe Thompson’s house in Mebane, North Carolina. Thompson was in his 80s then, and the three were intent on learning not only his musical knowledge but also to find inspiration from someone who had helped invent their sound. Mission accomplished, and after five years of playing fiddles, banjos and guitar, among other instruments, the sophomore album Genuine Negro Jig sounds like the group’s true coming out party. Producer Joe Henry, who has worked with Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint and more, wisely steers them through the land mine of being a retro-based band, which is a dead-end if there ever was one. Blu Cantrell’s 2001 “Hit ‘Em Up Style” and Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose,” along with Sule Greg Wilson’s percussion additions, opens the door for all kinds of inventive paths to pursue. Recorded in one week, these are songs that may at first shock the ears in their authentic approach to a music at the center of America’s heart, but quickly become familiar friends holding the keys to a new musical world.

The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, Tompkins Square Records

There are likely several in every large city in America: horn players who play in public places. Whether on street corners, in parks, shopping malls, even under freeways–they do it, usually, to make a living. Maybe they’ve come to a place where working nightclubs just isn’t an option. Either through poor choices or personal preferences, the players have ended up outdoors, performing for the sky and whatever public they can draw near, hopefully to send a song out into the world that will strike a nerve and get a donation from passing listeners. It’s a subtle art, and the really good musicians can almost earn a living at it. Giuseppi Logan works the northwest corner of Tompkins Square Park in New York City. He is a regular and plays alone, preferring the freedom of allowing his saxophone to take him and the audience he draws on a journey of its choosing. But Logan, who also has a steady schedule of shows around the city, is known mainly for his the two albums he recorded for the ESP label in the mid-’60s featuring fellow jazzmen Eddie Gomez, Don Pullen and Milford Graves. They were fairly avant-garde, which was the sound of the day, and the saxophonist–who is also adept on piano–took the sound to places some say it had never been. Now, after 45 years, Giuseppi Logan is back on disc, and what a joyous return it is. His horn might feel a little rough around the edges, but that only adds character to the notes he puts together and emotions they evoke. The man’s music is a work of beauty, with so much life experience in every phrase it send chills through the body. Most of the selections are originals, joined by gorgeous renditions of “Over the Rainbow,” “Blue Moon” and “Freddie Freeloader.” The quintet is a portrait of the humanity of those who chase jazz at all costs, and also a celebration of their endless efforts at survival. It isn’t easy. Giuseppi Logan’s voice on the album-ending “Love Me Tonight” might seem like a prayer in the dark night of the soul, but is really a heartfelt cry to the eternal strength of love. Just like jazz itself.

Kelly Ryan, Twist, Manatee Records

Known for her fine music made in the astroPuppees, Kelly Ryan likely knew sometime that day would come when she would fly solo. Very few lead singers in bands don’t hold that thought where the work will all be on them. Think Mick Jagger, who leads the greatest rock band extant, yet still is driven to record albums without the Rolling Stones. Don’t ask. But with Ryan, Twist really lets the singer-songwriter reach down deep and find her truest groove. And what she comes up with is a unique perspective:  a collection of originals (and one cover) told and played from a woman’s perspective. Supporting players Don Dixon, who also co-produced the album, Marti Jones and Jim Brock became an instantly seamless group, and with several guests and arranger Van Dyke Parks on two tracks, they create a sound so suited to the songs each comes to life in vivid colors. There are no wailing guitars or stomping drums, maybe, but each selection rocks in its own emotional way. The way Ryan borrows from the history of female stalwarts like the Bangles to wisely staying close to her own sound shows this an artist who has found her way, and her voice always pulls us in. This is an album that may take a few moments to unfold all its engaging strengths, but once it does the music will bounce around your soul for a very long time.Benley

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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