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There's a magnificent design to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's new album. The 11 songs hang together so well that, like the most flattering gowns, they seem to be cut on the bias.
Out July 9, That's It! features entirely original material — a first in Preservation Hall's 50-year tradition. Like previous recordings, the music conjures the band's intimate performance space, just a can-kick away from the crush of Bourbon Street. That's where jazz masters in black trousers, crisp white shirts and sensible shoes welcome fans nightly to sit at their feet. But this time around, sitting is not an option. The musicians are presenting their songs, and they're playing hotter, harder and more smartly than ever.
From Joseph Lastie Junior's opening drum beat, the ensemble pushes music lovers to dance. Just listen to the horns in the title track — especially Mark Braud on trumpet and Ben Jaffe on tuba. That sound and those rhythms are what Jelly Roll Morton was talking about when he described the "Latin tinge" in New Orleans music.
There's a mid-20th-century feel to songs like "Come With Me," "Sugar Plum" and "Yellow Moon" which calls to mind a particular vintage of cool. It conjures images of Sidney Poitier on the dance floor — refined, sexy and all grown up.
Each song has its own fun. "August Nights" bespeaks a continental moodiness worthy of Jacques Brel smoking in the rain, while "Rattlin' Bones" is a spooky treat, set to hilarious effect in a graveyard. Braud's trumpet is, again, perfect. But trombonist Freddie Lonzo is on vocals and he steals the show; he's half Boris Karloff, half Dr. John.
In fact, all the vocalists here are top-drawer, including Clint Maedgen (sax) and a shouting Ronell Johnson (tuba). Charlie Gabriel (clarinet) deserves particular mention for his affectionate tone, which gives the recording its emotional heft and recalls the original, legendary performers at Preservation Hall.
At heart, That's It! is a memory trick, managing to sound both familiar and fresh. But this is more than a live performance by a hot band. Producers Ben Jaffe and Jim James of My Morning Jacket have created a unique sound, to the point where it may not be possible to replicate it.
Any idea what makes a piano solo like "Emmalena's Lullaby" so haunting? Jaffe and his clever engineers miked the original studio performance at Preservation Hall and had it pressed onto vinyl in Memphis. Then they recorded the vinyl as it played in a 1950s dance hall outside the French Quarter. They were hoping for an effect that's not so easy to describe, but when they heard the lullaby's otherworldly music-box sound, they just knew, "That's it!"