in performance: preservation hall jazz band and the del mccoury band

the preservation hall jazz band

members of the preservation hall jazz band and the del mccoury band. photo by shannon brinkman.

The tip off to the collaboration came early last night at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for the Arts when Kentucky-born fiddler Jason Carter of the Del McCoury Band started juggling exuberant solos with clarinetist Charlie Gabriel of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The sounds came seemingly from two different artistic communities that were effectively reaching out to one another. Carter’s regal bluegrass tone adopted a hearty swing vibe while Gabriel’s summery solos stretched beyond Preservation Hall’s New Orleans comfort zone into boppish terrain. When the music was complete, the players broke into massive, electric smiles – the kinds that surface when musical camaraderie clicks in terms of spirit as well as technique.

That explains why smiles were in abundance last night as the McCoury and Preservation Hall troupes joined forces for a mighty roots music gala. While the latter’s celebration of Crescent City and Dixieland jazz seemed to dominate the performance’s stylistic framework, McCoury’s Americana and bluegrass smarts heavily infiltrated its repertoire and internal musical makeup.

For instance, the 1979 Hank Snow hit A Good Gal is Hard to Find – performed by the McCoury Band, but with Gabriel on vocals and PHJB pianist Rickie Monie adding effortlessly seasoned piano strolls – transferred its country sensibility straight to the bayou. The Hank Williams chestnut Jambalaya, in turn, put McCoury’s high mountain tenor in charge of a tasty Preservation Hall calypso/creole arrangement.

The two bands briefly broke away for separate tunes. McCoury’s mini-set was killer: two Richard Thompson gems (Dry My Tears and Move On and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning) and a classic Bill Monroe instrumental (Bluegrass Breakdown) while the PHJB offered a pair of tunes from its 2010 benefit album Preservation: Shake it and Break It and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The latter boasted a surprise vocal serenade from Kentucky’s own Daniel Martin Moore.

But the most enticing moments came when the full bands crossed over into each other’s turf, as during an update of the vintage McCoury instrumental Banjo Frisco fortified by the trombone sass of Freddie Lonzo and the unison jubilation of Jelly Roll Morton’s Milenberg Joys.

During those champion moments, boundaries between bluegrass and New Orleans jazz evaporated so that one riotous sound could roar forth.

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