The ultra-fun new recording from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band opens with a sense of dislocation. What you hear is a big beat rumble, a cross between the spirit of Gene Krupa and the threatening swing you would have expected to blow out of Kansas City instead of Preservation Hall’s native New Orleans. Entering next is the bass. That’s the giveaway. It’s a deep, bouncy creation of tuba and sousaphone. Then the horns hit like a thick, humid breeze. It’s vital yet antique – a mix of sass and brass from the other side of the musical tracks that Preservation Hall usually calls home.
Then you glance at the title. A tune by current Preservation Hall chieftain Ben Jaffe, it doubles as the title to the album itself, a recording full of firsts for such a gatekeeper of New Orleans jazz tradition. The title reflects a eureka moment, an instance where the sounds of Preservation Hall – not to mention the artistic liberties that have been taken with them – coalesce into the realization that a new musical chapter for the band is at hand. The title makes complete sense once the music kicks in. You can almost hear yourself saying it.
For over 50 years, Preservation Hall has been a torchbearer of serious old-school New Orleans jazz – a light, fragrant sound rooted in Dixieland, blues and combo-sized swing. The name alone suggests its mission. But That’s It! completes a transitional run that perhaps could only have been realized in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Having nearly been obliterated by the city’s worst natural disaster in recent memory, the band regrouped and took on several collaborative situated well outside of its stylistic norm. The first was 2010’s Preservation, an all-star benefit that teamed Preservation Hall with such unexpected pals as Tom Waits, Andrew Bird and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. A year later came American Legacies, a brilliant album mash-up with the bluegrass scholars of The Del McCoury Band.
That’s It! retains James as producer but retreats from the genre-jumping of those projects. Instead it focuses, for the first time in Preservation Hall’s half-century history, exclusively on new original works. The fun shifts from the parlor style serenading of Come With Me to the redemptive gospel shake-up of Dear Lord (Give Me Strength) to the G-rated graveyard celebration Rattlin’ Bones.
But within the solo, stately funereal piano rolls Rickie Monie provides to Emmalena’s Lullaby, which closes the album, you hear the full majestic sweep of today’s Preservation Hall. It’s a tradition that delights in being alternately dark and joyous. This is what This is It! is all about.