Listen: Preservation Hall Jazz Band Doubles Down On Afro-Cuban Connection

Feb 23, 2017

Buried somewhere in the fathoms of YouTube is a recent clip of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, apparently filmed with a smartphone in Santiago de Cuba. The band, synonymous with the ebullient spirit of New Orleans, is playing a staple of its book, Professor Longhair's "Go to the Mardi Gras." What's notable about this version of the song, from December of 2015, is the punchy assist provided by some Cuban percussionists, who fall right into step with its second-line groove.

The musical connection between Cuba and New Orleans, which runs deeper than many listeners realize, forms a strong subtext on the next Preservation Hall Jazz Band album, So It Is. Made up entirely of original tunes — composed by bassist and bandleader Ben Jaffe and longtime tenor saxophonist Charlie Gabriel, with a few other contributors — it's an album that doubles down on Afro-Cuban clave, along with what Jelly Roll Morton once termed "the Spanish tinge."

That confluence of factors rings especially loud and clear on "Santiago," the album's lead single, jointly written by Gabriel and Jaffe. Rather than buoyant second-line rhythm, the track features an Afrobeat groove, frenetic but taut. There's a bravura trumpet solo by Stephen Lands, and some peppy background blaring by trombonist Ronell Johnson. The whole performance has a live-wire crackle, recalling the spirit if not the style of the Mardi Gras descarga from that YouTube footage.

So It Is, which is due out on Legacy Recordings on April 21, traffics elsewhere in more percussive heat ("La Malanga"), or slinkier cool (the title track). What it lacks, refreshingly, is a celebrity guest list — something you could have reasonably come to expect from this band, given its embrace in the pop arena. (Maybe you caught its recent guest turns with My Morning Jacket and country upstart Maren Morris, among others.)

Still, even without any cameos, So It Is should help keep the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in that orbit. Along with Jaffe, it was produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, and its release will usher in some major tour dates — notably at Coachella (April 14 and 21), the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (May 7) and Bonnaroo (June 9). For more dates and information, visit preservationhalljazzband.com.

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