Jazz Review : Preservation Hall Band Makes Present of Past


Mardi Gras came to Cerritos on Thursday as the PreservationHall Jazz Band closed its show at the Center for the Performing Arts with an invigorating parade through the aisles to the hearty strains of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Favors were thrown from the stage to the audience, and at least 100 attendees joined the march, including one well-prepared soul sporting the traditional parasol.

The party atmosphere, heightened by table seating on the center's main floor, pervaded the show from start to finish, as band members enticed the assembled to clap, sing and cheer on their favorite soloists. If there was anyone in the near-capacity crowd who didn't have a good time, let them come forward now.

Hand in hand with the merriment was a musical presentation that brought the New Orleans tradition squarely into the present. With musicians ranging in age from 85-year-old banjo player Narvin Kimball to 24-year-old bassist Benjamin Jaffe (son of the late Preservation Hall founder Allan Jaffe), the Hall presented an object lesson in the ability of music to transcend race and generation.

The musicians who provided the most direct link to the music's past were Kimball with his reliable, heart-like banjo pulse and, surprisingly, young-man Jaffe with his plucky bass. Other facets of the band's sound were decidedly more modern.

Pianist Ricky Monie, while providing the spare, to-the-beat rhythm accompaniment one expects from the New Orleans tradition, also brought more recent touches to his solo play. At times he called up the rich, quirky style of Erroll Garner or the warm smoothness of Oscar Peterson. These updates, though not exactly contemporary, didn't seem at odds with these old songs. Instead they fit neatly into the presentation, providing a bridge between now and then. Drummer Joe Lastie's attack also took on back-to-the-future qualities at times.

Somewhere in the middle was trumpeter and bandleader Wendell Brunious, whose style seemed to embrace the entire trumpet tradition at once. Brunious played some technically ambitious passages that would have startled turn-of-the-century jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, but there were also strong historical references to Louis Armstrong. Brunious is a fine trumpeter who should step out now and then to perform and record music of his own design. No doubt it would be the kind of thing that would give pause to such young trumpeters as New Orleans' Nicholas Payton.

Trombonist Frank Demond has a unique style that is hard to place chronologically. He uses all the tricks of the slide, with notes that slip from one pitch to the next, often balanced against wiggle-wristed vibrato tones. The best received soloist was clarinetist David Grillier, whose playful ways were firmly set in the New Orleans tradition.

One doesn't expect to hear much new from the band, and this performance ran true to course. Its rendition of "St. Louis Blues," with its growling, Mideastern influenced interlude, was a standout, as was the slow, sultry delivery of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."

Kimball won ovations for his game vocalizing, notably on "Because of You (There's a Song in My Heart"), while Brunious impressed the crowd with his two-fingered whistling during Professor Longhair's "Goin' to the Mardi Gras."

But the true measure of a Preservation Hall Jazz Band performance is the feeling it develops in its audience while presenting a glimpse of bygone days. By that standard, this was one of the Hall's best local performances in the past few years.

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