Friday, April 11, 2014

BAM welcomes roots musicians Carolina Chocolate Drops and Twyla Tharp

The Carolina Chocolate Drops
L to r: Hubby Jenkins, Rhiannon Giddens,
Rowan Corbett and Malcolm Parson
(photo by Michael Wilson)
The Carolina Chocolate Drops (reviewed by me here in March 2012) brought their acclaimed, rollicking rhythms to the BAM Gilman Opera House for one special evening including the world premiere of a duet choreographed by Twyla Tharp. In the spirited couplings and variations of Cornbread Duet, a contemporary ballet set to several of the Black fiddle-and-banjo band's songs, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet infused fluid, lighter-than-air, speedy technique with accents of jazz, square dance, social dance and joyful sass. Embedded in the lavish, two-hour-plus program, this segment aptly reflected not only the historic cultural blend (the Black and Celtic lineage of the 19th to early 20th Century American South) that the Drops honor in their music but also the qualities that give American performance widespread, enduring appeal and influence. The ballet stars were dressed by Norma Kamali in bold, horizontal layers of black and white, and while I'd like to believe none of us need the possible subliminal message in those adjoined colors, there it is.
Tiler Peck
(photo courtesy of the artist)
Robert Fairchild
(photo courtesy of the artist)
From Tharp's Cornbread Duet
(photo by Rahav Segev)
By now, I'd imagine, smart Tharp fans would also be hip to the Drops. But if any turned up last night just for Tharp and the NYCB principals, never having encountered the band, they were probably won over by Rhiannon Giddens' ebullient personality and valiant singing and the band's rousing performance. Welcome to what the rest of us have been loving for some time now, Grammy-winners for their 2010 Nonesuch debut, Genuine Negro Jig.

Certainly, the Drops warmly welcome you, too, with a set list ranging across revival church music, some soul-seeking Odetta blues, Joe Thompson fiddle tunes, Hank Williams's "Please Don't Let Me Love You"--this last delivered with Giddens's near-yodeling voice bending notes before kicking everything into high, trotting speed. Fan faves like "Country Girl" (written by Giddens and her sister) and the countrified version of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" were given fresh, full-on performances. The only problem was that Giddens got to slip off her shoes and stomp and twirl, while the audience had to sit still watching from the theater's "Line 'Em Up Sardine Style" rows.

As Giddens noted, with typical generosity, two former members of the band have split off into solo careers--the charismatic Don Flemons, a founding member, and cellist Leyla McCalla, who appeared with the band on tour and on their Grammy-nominated Leaving Eden (2012). Flemons and McCalla are out there doing their thing and spreading the goodness, and if you miss them, you can support their new moves by checking up on Flemons here and McCalla here.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for Giddens's own solo album, which she's working on for the band's label, Nonesuch Records.

For more Spring events at BAM, click here.

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