Few modern acts have managed to do such an effective job at bringing the musical heritage of New Orleans to the world as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This much was evident from the sold out crowd at Portland’s Aladdin Theater on Tuesday, April 18th. Since the 60’s the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have been a vibrant musical collective and ambassadors of New Orleans jazz, but the most recent rendition of the group are simultaneously a product of the classic and the modern New Orleans. This can be understood more for their embrace of the indie rock sensibility by collaborating with massive acts like the Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire than, say, the ever-popular bounce music.
At the Aladdin Theater the band was intent on playing songs from their brand new album So It Is, and these songs would make up the first set of music. In good spirits, they kicked off with the title track of the record, dropping into a slinky bassline and keyboard groove that felt fitting for a smoky late night jazz club. By the time they hit their next tune the band was fully swinging and wasted no time busting out solos all around. The next tune began with a feisty and confident piano lick before the band turned it into a casual stroll. As the energy of the set picked up, the band succeeding in taking all of the elements of New Orleans music and spinning them into something new as they incorporated second line drum power, down and dirty funk, and even Mardi Gras Indian-style chants into their songs. They also revealed to the audience that So It Is was recorded in Cuba and the experience was formative. As a result, the new songs seemed to explore the historical connection between New Orleans and Cuba with a Latin jazz prowess that felt made for dancing.
The second set found the band taking a turn towards some of their more traditional material, though the songs in the short set were no less funky. There were elements of Dr. John, James Booker, and even Dixieland jazz, and all of it was done with a tightness from this group of talented musicians. Above all else, the band instilled a sense of professionalism in keeping the party going – a true New Orleans specialty.
By the time they bid farewell, the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band had given this crowd a taste of old and new. They had delivered a stunning set of songs that represented their fair city in a way that spent little time dwelling in the past while still keeping it safe and secure. Though it often feels like Portland couldn’t feel further away from New Orleans, the members of Preservation Hall closed that distance with two sets of funky jazz that felt as contemporary and fresh as they did steeped in a rich musical tradition.