9 Jul 2013: McKittrick Hotel New York
The McKittrick Hotel’s concert space seemed more speakeasy than contemporary and trendy bar as they hosted the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB) for a residency (their second at the venue) as part of a week-long celebration for the release of their new album. But some people may have treated it as a trendy bar rather than the dark jazz lounge it appeared to be. During the first half of their set, Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed one sultry summer tune, “August Nights” from their new album That’s It! with the gorgeous muted trumpet of Mark Braud evoking bygone eras (or really those same eras the PHJB formed in). Unfortunately this quiet number was marred by an overly chatty audience, at least on the bar side. An unfortunate problem for those caught in the grip of the band, but one that didn’t last too long. The next tune, the skeletal-rousing of “Rattlin’ Bones”, with Freddie Lonzo singing about the undead “creeping around from behind their headstones”, drew most of the audience out of their seats and kicking up their feet. When it seemed Lonzo was wrapping up, moving to sit back down, one quick glance from Braud got him back to the microphone to lead the audience in singing the chorus and extended the track out.
Catching these little exchanges between the band members was half the delight of their marvelous performance. The eight piece band has meshed tightly over their years together, clearly enough so that they could release That’s It!, an album of entirely new compositions infused with their spirit. The evening wasn’t just about the originals, which included the album’s title track, a song they performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show the night before. That instrumental, “That’s It!” has wild brass tones over an infectious percussive beat that was another rivet for the audience.
During the intermission, a few of the less interested folks cleared out and never returned, just as the band was about to turn the heat up. On one song, Lonzo returned again to the mic for a seductive number, that got one (random? whether she was beckoned, I don’t know) lovely young lady to dance alongside him (you can see the mischief in his eyes). On another, the mighty tuba player Ronell Johnson put down his instrument to sing gospel… as the ladies in the front row rose up to greet him and the audience could feel the reverence sweep through the crowd.
Excepting possibly Johnson and his jazz hands, the biggest cheers were raised for Mr. Charlie Gabriel on clarinet, a man who will be celebrating his 81st birthday today (July 11). His ear to ear grin shown clear across the room and was exceeded only by the brightness of his instrument. However enticing that smile and the PHJB can be, there is always an inevitable end to their performances. After wrapping up the second set, the band returned for one last (for the night) hurrah, a medley with “When the Saints Go Marching In” and the more instructive line that it was the “last chance to dance”. The audience made the most of this opportunity. One lady popped open an umbrella emblazoned with a fleur-de-lis and stomped around the room while the effervescent Sandra Jaffe, mother to PHJB Director and tuba player Ben Jaffe, and one of the founders of the Preservation Hall, rose up to partake in the revelry. With several more nights to go in their run, the PHJB’s energy won’t likely waver. Nor should it, as the new songs have renewed the band’s spirit.