Album Review: That's It! by Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Very Good, Based on 5 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Preservation Hall Jazz Band's 2013 album, That's It!, is the first album of all-original material in their 50-year career. Certainly, the storied ensemble has performed original songs by its various members over the years, but the group has never released an album made up solely of new compositions. In that sense, the album fits in with Preservation Hall Jazz Band's recent creative direction that found them collaborating with artists from other genres, including 2010's Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program and 2011's jazz-meets-bluegrass experiment American Legacies, featuring the Del McCoury Band.
A band with the word “preservation” in its name now has an album of all new material. To me, that only seems fair. Here’s a band that gave itself the task, way back in the early ‘60s, of preserving New Orleans jazz for future generations. Many members have come and gone, giving the impression that the preservation of the songs and the swing style were more of a priority than those who played it.
This New Orleans crew has been keepers of local jazz tradition for more than 50 years, but it has never recorded an LP of original material until now. With help from songwriters like Paul "Rainbow Connection" Williams and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James contributing the reverently hands-off production, the band manages a set that subtly plays with history. "August Nights," a bulletin from "the sorry side of the street," has post-Katrina resonance, and the groove of "I Think I Love You" connects Basin Street and Brazil.
The current incarnation of this New Orleans institution, first established 50 years ago, takes an eclectic attitude to their heritage. There are echoes of the Crescent City's founding role in the 1920s jazz age – the spirit of Louis Armstrong is never far away – but Sugar Plum draws from a later, big band era, while I Think I Love You borrows the rolling piano of Professor Longhair, and Halfway Right, Halfway Wrong the funky strut of Allen Toussaint. The dominant mood on their first all-originals album is exuberant, but the stand-out August Nights is late-night melancholia with a post-Katrina ambience.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and its latest record represents a first: Before “That’s It!” the band had never released an album that featured only original material. That fact is an indication of the broadening in scope that has been taking place under the direction of Ben Jaffe, son of band founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe. But while there are a few stylistic diversions here (the languid, late-night noir of “August Nights,” for example), Jaffe and his cohorts are mostly writing in the tradition.