Monday, March 1, 2010

"PRESERVATION" reviewed in All About Jazz!

Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
by Wade Liguet

What do you get when you cross America's best traditional jazz band with 20 emerging or legendary musical artists? You get a terrific collection of highly listenable traditional jazz performances by a highly improbable combination of musicians and vocalists. Who would have thought to have Del McCoury sing "After You've Gone" with his heavy country twang? Or Tom Waits' raspy voice on "Tootie Ma Was a Big Fine Thing"? If you are Ben Jaffe—tuba player, creative director and son of Preservation Hall founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe, and grew up in the hall—this might seem, as Jaffe states in the liner notes, a natural fit. For the rest of us, it is a surprise, and a real treat.

Jaffe made a wish-list of performers whom he hoped would come to New Orleans to play with the band. Surprisingly, they all agreed to do so. He showed them around the city and then brought them to the warm confines of Preservation Hall to record with the band. The result is an album that will have widespread appeal, as performers known by the young—Andrew Bird, Yim Yames, Jason Isbell, Ani DeFranco, Cory Chisel, Paolo Nutini, Angelique Kidjo, Brandi Carlisle and Amy LaVere—share the CD with performers known by folk and rock music fans—Waits, Pete Seeger, Dr. John, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Richie Havens. Country music fans are catered for too, by Merle Haggard, McCoury, Steve Earle and Buddy Miller. Louis Armstrong even makes an appearance with extracted voicings on "Rocking Chair." All the performers are accompanied by the incomparable Preservation Hall Jazz Band—a group of musicians who are, no doubt about it, the best New Orleans has to offer in the traditional music genre.

The album elicits feelings of both joy and bemusement. Joy because that is what traditional jazz creates when played by some of its greatest musicians, and bemusement because of the pairing of some great singers and musicians with the band. Andrew Bird brings his skillful violin playing, as well as a voice with great range, to "Shake It And Break It." Tom Waits' craggy voicings on the Mardi Gras-tinged "Tootie Ma Was A Big Fine Thing" is just plain fun. Merle Haggard's version of "Basin Street Blues" skillfully joins a country voice and jazz in a surprisingly pleasant rendition of this old standard. Richie Havens sings a hauntingly beautiful blues ballad on "Trouble in Mind" with banjo and the horn section playing beautifully in the background. Preservation Hall vocalist Clint Maedgen performs with the Blind Boys of Alabama on the fired-up gospel tune "There Is a Light" behind the powerful organ playing of the hall's pianist Rickie Monie. Each of the tunes on this album deserves a comment, but more than that, each deserves a listen.

Preservation is released as a benefit album to support Preservation Hall and its Music Outreach Program. The album will also benefit traditional jazz in general. As younger generations shun jazz for hip hop, country and independent music, how will jazz lure listeners? How will a century old (and counting) music form stay fresh? Ben Jaffe and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have created something brilliant with this album. They have kept the jazz traditional, and have brought in popular artists to collaborate with them. This album will no doubt have cross-over appeal. It is something that both young and old listeners should enjoy, be they country, rock or jazz fans. In that sense, the disc, as the title implies, is a preservation of all that is good about traditional jazz, while at the same time being an ambassador to a new generation of fans.

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