IRVINE--The edition of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band that visited the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Saturday was a decidedly younger group than has been seen in the area in the past few years.
Though led by the same man, trumpeter Wendell Brunious, as the traveling group that appeared February at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, only one of the musicians, banjo-playing Narvin Kimball, looked the elder statesman type that has come to be associated with the New Orleans-based ensemble.
None of the rest of the seven-piece band looked older than middle-age, and some of them (Brunious has yet to see his 40th birthday) looked downright young.
In a way, this group featuring Brunious, Kimball, clarinetist Michael White and trombonist Frank Demond, signifies a passing of the torch to a new generation while answering the question of just what it is that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is trying to preserve.
Sure, they're preserving the style of jazz generated in New Orleans in the past 100 years. But Brunious, as he did in an interview before February's performance, is the first to acknowledge that the music doesn't remain static. As he explained, the younger musicians (and the older ones as well) have all been influenced by swing, be-bop and post-bop styles, and those influences can't help but pop up in their playing.
So there were times Saturday when pianist Lars Edegran sounded more like Art Tatum than Jelly Roll Morton, when clarinetist White seemed to come more from the loft scene than the barrel-house tradition, when Brunious added Miles Davis touches to a sound heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong. But the flavor and the essence of the Preservation Hall sound remains the same.
And that's the answer to the preservation question. What the group is carrying on is the spirit of the New Orleans sound. And what more proof of that is needed than the group's encore presentation of "When the Saints Go Marching In," an exercise that found the horns leaving the stage and leading a parade of revelers up the aisles, out into the lobby, and back to the stage, where a host of dancers mixed with the musicians as they played.
The entire evening carried this party atmosphere, from the moment the group opened with an upbeat "Hindustan" right down to the closing parade. More often than not, the audience was clapping along strongly to the rhythms and could even be heard singing the lyrics to the better-known songs.
Kimball was featured during "Georgia on My Mind," his vocal continuing to climb just when you thought he'd reached his upper limit. Throughout his banjo accompaniment was a shiny embellishment, with slippery series of chords mixing it up with responses to his band-mates. His double-time strumming on "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" was particularly uplifting.
Both Brunious and White are strong soloists, and the two combined to turn "Bourbon Street Parade" into a free-for-all. Demond played up the slide side of his instrument, tailgated with aplomb while employing a wide vibrato. At one point during his "Bourbon Street" improvisation, he took time to quote from "Laura's Theme" from "Dr. Zhivago."
Bassist Don Vappie also provided examples of the influences history has had on the New Orleans sound, his approach, at times, more like that of Ray Brown's or Ron Carter's, than the gut-bucket style one might expect. Still, the most excitement Vappie developed with the audience was when he began to slap and snap at his strings. Likewise, drummer Joe Lastie employed both shuffle beats and occasional Gene Krupa-inspired tom-tom work in his timekeeping.
This particular Preservation Hall ensemble (there are three traveling units) makes it clear that the New Orleans style of music that the band champions will continue to evolve. The audience's reaction to the concert, a group as various in age as the musicians, guarantees that it will never die.