Preservation Hall Jazz Band
50th Anniversary Collection (Columbia / Legacy)
Reviewed by Scott Jordan, Fri., Dec. 14, 2012
Preservation Hall Jazz Band50th Anniversary Collection (Sony/Legacy)
Meet trad jazz's James Bond: iconic, indestructible, inevitably in flux. Early patriarch/businessman/rhythm section anchor Allan Jaffe and subsequent PHJB members embrace a 007-worthy mission of proselytizing America's signature cultural achievement. Since the early Sixties, the French Quarter's 726 St. Peter Street has remained a mecca for lovers of plunger-massaged trumpets, pathos-plucked banjos, intertwined woodwind-and-brass-section trills, and pianists steeped in Jelly Roll Morton's Creole/Spanish tinge. This 4-CD, 58-track set spotlights multiple recording and touring versions of PHJB, with legendary figures like hornmen Willie and Percy Humphrey and banjoist Narvin Kimball playing Sean Connery to the Daniel Craig vibe of young gun Clint Maedgen, who's embraced trad-busting PHJB collaborations with My Morning Jacket and recorded a cover of the Kinks' "Complicated Life." PHJB's challenge has always been honoring New Orleans' timeless canon and breathing new life into warhorses like "When the Saints Go Marching In." Mission accomplished, from the joyous call-and-response on a 1966 version of "Eh la Bas" to a raucous 2009 stomp through "Shake It and Break It" with Andrew Bird. Stylistically, PHJB shows its range on sorrowful blues ("Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning"), syncopated and sexy shuffles ("Shake That Thing"), and spiritual balms "Precious Lord" and "I'll Fly Away." Tom Waits nails a back-alley French Quarter growl on "Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing," and a gorgeously spare horn arrangement matches Richie Havens' vocals on "Trouble in Mind." Such collaborations are the brainchild of creative director Ben Jaffe, who's honored his father's legacy by pushing PHJB toward new audiences. The experimentation doesn't always work; witness a bizarre, mambo-flavored version of stone-blues classic "St. James Infirmary" and MMJ's Jim James crooning through the corn of "Louisiana Fairytale," a "Winter Wonderland" knockoff. Still, these are five decades of vital history, with all signs pointing to the mission being in good hands for the future. Ian Fleming would approve.