Preservation Hall Jazz Band St. Peter & 57th St. Review

Live. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A special-guests-heavy celebration of the PHJB’s 50th anniversary.

Martin Longley 2012

St. Peter Street is the location of Preservation Hall in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and 57th Street is where squats New York’s Carnegie Hall. This live set was recorded at the latter location in January 2012, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Preservation Hall’s house band.

The PHJB combo has been active pretty much as long as the famed jazz heritage haunt, and is now led by Ben Jaffe, the sousaphone-slinging son of Preservation’s founders, Allan and Sandra.

The Carnegie gig’s concept was to feature the PHJB as a foundation for that old chestnut: the mega-guest-star blow-out. Comparable only to The Chieftains in the scope of their stylistic sympathies, the PHJB managed to corral a starry cast ranging from Del McCoury to Mos Def, via Allen Toussaint and King Britt. And, mostly, these diverse artists managed to merge with their distinctly Crescent City hosts.

Bourbon Street Parade represents the meaty heart of the band, unadorned by guests, their front line given space to swing. Intriguing though all the collaborations are, it’s a shame that this is only one of two tunes that showcase the PHJB in its naked horn-jostling state.

McCoury is an old-time king of bluegrass, and his band take over on One More ‘Fore I Die, the Preservationists just slipping in their clarinet and trumpet solos. Toussaint fits in best, with his dedicated PHJB song, an infectiously sing-along ditty presumably penned specially for the occasion.

Steve Earle blends in naturally for T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business, and the real odd one out is El Manicero (The Peanut Vendor), sung in Spanish by Tao Seeger, the grandson of Pete. Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs shows how it should be, retaining her unique vocal style, but applying it to the accumulated tradition of Careless Love. My Morning Jacket muck in on the mighty St James Infirmary, here as a two-parter.

With the multitude of guests, perhaps this would be better as a DVD. When experienced solely as audio, the ears are forced to make some wild and sudden adjustments. But maybe that’s one of this disc’s perverse attractions.

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