Live Concert Photography: Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Highline Ballroom 4/25/17
Allan Jaffe founded Preservation Hall and Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the early 1960s with two vital and critical missions: the promotion and preservation of New Orleans’ traditional jazz sound and culture with the authenticity and devotion it deserved and ensuring that some of the Crescent City’s best musicians kept working and earning paychecks at a time when jazz had been steadily losing popularity and attention. And although the band has gone through a series of lineup changes over the course of its 50+ year history, the act has proudly continued onward with those dual missions as its members have recoded 30 critically acclaimed albums and a live album, and have had some of the busiest touring schedules of any contemporary band, which has included collaborating with an incredibly diverse number of renowned, contemporary artists and acts at concerts and festivals across the US and elsewhere, all while helping to introduce and re-popularize jazz and the New Orleans jazz sound to concertgoers and music fans everywhere.
The act celebrated their 50th anniversary earlier this century and along with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which left many of the members of the band, like countless New Orleanians essentially homeless for extensive periods of time. And naturally, as a result, the band now lead by Allan Jaffe’s son Ben had been left to consider several profoundly existential and important questions: First, how does an institution based on an early 20th century music culture survive in a wildly unpredictable and uncertain music culture of the early 21st century? And secondly, how do the members of the band do that, while continuing to preserver and honor New Orlean’s unique and beloved musical culture and sound?
With the band spending its storied first 50 years focused on paying tribute to the sounds and styles of the past, Jaffe and his bandmates decided on a radical and bold reinvention — one that required them to look both to the present and the future. And to do so meant going into unchartered territory for the institution, with the current lineup writing new, original material that modernized their sound while paying homage to both their hometown’s imitable sound, culture and joie de vivre and to their own storied past and sound. 2013’s That’s It!, was the band’s first album of boisterous, joyful originals including album title track “That’s It,” “Dear Lord (Give Me The Strength)” and “Rattling Bones” among others.
The Dave Sitek-produced So It Is, the band’s second full-length album of originals was released last month and the material finds the band mining some fresh influences, including a 2015, life-changing trip to Cuba. As the band’s Ben Jaffe explained in press notes, “In Cuba, all of a sudden we were face-to-face with our musical counterparts. There’s been a connection between Cuba and New Orleans since day one — we’re family. A gigantic light bulb went off and we realized that New Orleans music is not just a thing by itself; it’s part of something much bigger. It was almost like having a religious epiphany.”
Featuring compositions largely penned by Jeffe and 84 year-old saxophonist and clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, in collaboration with their bandmates, the material on So it Is manages to tie the world famous New Orleans jazz sound to the larger African Diaspora, in this case, with the Afro-Caribeean and Afro-Cuban sound through some common sonic and aesthetic linkages — i.e., Fela Kuti, Pharaoh Sanders and John Coltrane. But in other ways, the material draws from the indefatigable spirit of their hometown, while considering what the New Orleans sound should be in light of the city’s extensive gentrification post-Hurricane Katrina.
Additionally, Sitek, known as a founding member of TV on the Radio and a go-to producer, who has worked with Kelis, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold and others had a profound respect and appreciation for the band’s history, while offering a unique and modern perspective. In fact, as Sitek recalls upon his arrival in New Orleans to meet Jaffe and the members of the septet, he and Jaffe had randomly stumbled into one of the second-line parades, which New Orleans has long been known for. “I was struck by the visceral energy of the live music all around, this spontaneous joy, everything so immediately,” Sitek said in press notes. “I knew I had to make sure that feeling came out of the studio. It needed to be alive. It needed to sound dangerous.” And the result is a fiery, soulful, truly liberated jazz that evokes strutting and dancing in second lines, of sweaty juke joint jazz that makes you shout and stomp like you were possessed.
Now, if you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you may recall that the members of Preservation Hall Jazz Band were in town last week to support So It Is in front of an enthusiastic, packed house at Highline Ballroom with a set that featured material from the new album, including the album’s lead single “Santiago,” and a couple of selections from That’s It!. Check out some photos of some of the world’s best musicians doing their thing below, as well as their set list.
Set List — Highline Ballroom 4/25/17
So It Is
One Hundred Fires
I Think I Love You