Music is definitely in the air
12th August 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Preservation Hall Jazz Band That’s It!
This album begins with such magnificent exuberance it would be hard to resist no matter one’s stylistic preference or state of mind. On the title cut, “That’s It!” the drums of the African diaspora call out to the response of the horns with the tuba the voice of the chief. The piercing persuasion of the trumpet, in this case New Orleanian Mark Braud, sparks further energy. This little, just over three minute gem from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s latest CD, is the song that the ensemble, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, performed with great success during the first of a two-night stand on the “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show.” Hey, The Roots band, tuba and horn (and hip hop ) driven talented hipsters dug it and joined in with the PHJB on selected tunes – they jived.
While it’s apparent that the tune second lines and sambas New Orleans style, it may not be as obvious that the group, which sounds more like a small big band, is the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
That’s It! represents a new era for the PHJB as it is the first album filled with all original material written or co-written primarily by leader, tuba player Ben Jaffe. Under his direction, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been stretching its parameters collaborating with numerous artists outside of the traditional jazz realm. That it was produced by Jim James, the singer and songwriter for the rock group My Morning Jacket and longtime admirer of the PHJB, can be seen as a next step.
Just because the album doesn’t include chestnuts associated with the band and the St. Peter Street club like “St. James Infirmary” or “Basin Street Blues,” doesn’t mean the group isn’t keeping the faith. The next tune on the CD, “Dear Lord (Give Me Strength)” stays in the hymnal tradition that has been a part of the classic jazz repertoire since its beginnings and a major element in jazz funerals. We could easily send someone on their “homegoing” with this one.
“Come with Me,” sung and co-written by reedman Charlie Gabriel, who adds a beautiful clarinet solo, praises New Orleans assets just as so many early, classic jazz tunes have done in the past. Think “Bourbon Street Parade.”
There’s a bit of a modern sound in the harmonies of the horns and the hip street beat of “Sugar Plum” that could lead one to ask “Hey, is that the Dirty Dozen Brass Band?” Then there’s the old time rhythm and blues feel in the piano and sentimentality of “I Think I Love You.” Think Fats Domino. On listening to “The Darker It Gets,” collaborative composition, it’s difficult to conceive that it was written in recent times rather than decades or century ago. The only difference is that audiences have yet to learn the lyrics.
The major factor that makes this album and the band’s adventurous undertakings work is the quality of the musicians and their vast and diversified musical experiences. They include Jaffe, Braud, Gabriel, who at 81 is the elder statesman, trombonist and vocalist Freddie Lonzo, drummer Joe Lastie, pianist Rickie Monie, tuba Ronell Johnson and reedman and vocalist Clint Maedgen. That’s a lot of New Orleans history right there.
That’s It! trumpets the sentiment that all things – in the right hands – can become new again.
The UNO Lakefront Arena gets down big time with the arrival of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, The Isley Brothers and Kem on Saturday, August 17. Presented by Bounce TV, the show is being billed as “The Bounce Summer Music Festival” though it could have been called “Superstar Rhythm and Blues Soul Shout!”
Does anyone around the country love Beverly and Maze more than folks in New Orleans or have more fun when they’re on stage? Come to think of it, this line-up sounds a bit like the earlier days of Essence Festival.
Vocalist Ronald and guitarist Ernie Isley have kept their Grammy-winning family group, which first hit big with 1959’s kicker “Shout,” vital through their live shows and recording collaborations. They’ve got it.
At 44, rhythm and blues vocalist and keyboardist Kem is the youngster of this super triple bill. With smash hits like “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” he’ll bring on the romance. Go to www.bouncetv.com for further information.
The following night, Sunday, August 18, the incredible Bettye LaVette makes a very special and rare appearance at Tipitina’s. The soul singer and songwriter who also moves into blues, gospel and even country western, made her first hit recording in 1962 at the age of 16 with “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man.” It wasn’t until 2005 that she found greater recognition for her Grammy-nominated album, I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise.
In 2011, LaVette knocked the crowd out with her huge talent as she stood beneath the spotlights on stage in Lafayette Square at the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival. Her return to New Orleans will certainly be heralded by those who heard her that night.
This article originally published in the August 12, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.