Review & Photos | Preservation Hall Jazz Band | Cambridge

Words By: Andrew Bruss

Preservation Hall Jazz Band :: 11.19.13 :: The Sinclair :: Cambridge, MA

Preservation Hall Jazz Band must really confuse the CEO’s of major record labels. Interscope’s failed $25m marketing campaign behind Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP is reportedly going to result in holiday layoffs, but while corporate overlords wonder where their focus groups steered them wrong, Preservation Hall Jazz Band excited the right demographics at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA with nothing but quality musical chops and old school showmanship.

The members of PHJB span generations. Charlie Gabriel (clarinet, tenor sax and vocals), came off as the patriarch of the band. Of all the vocalists, he got the most time in front of the microphone, and clocking in at 71 years young, he’s also the oldest member of the group.

Ben Jaffe (tuba and backup vocals) is young enough to be Gabriel’s son but his actually parents, Sandra and Allan, first opened Preservation Hall in the French Quarter back in the early '60s. Membership of the group has changed a great deal over the years, but more than any one member, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is about the traditions of the culture and the music.

“Tootie Ma Was A Big Fine Thing,” got every ass in the house shaking from the get-go with the help of their smorgasbord of horns and some uniquely bayou-bred drumbeats.

The highlight of the set was “St. James Infirmary,” an old jazz staple that’s been covered by acts ranging from NOLA-greats like Dr. John and Louie Armstrong to the likes of Eric Clapton and The White Stripes. The down-tempo number tells the tale of an old booze hound who shows up at a bar to describe the scene at St. James Infirmary, where he found the love of his life, dead, laid out on a cold slab in the morgue. Loss and death are themes the city of New Orleans knows all too well and when PHJB performed the tune at The Sinclair, it felt like they brought both the pain and perseverance of their city with them to the New England College town.

The name Preservation Hall is synonymous with a sound that’s right out of the prohibition era. There’s nothing cutting edge about the show PHJB put on at The Sinclair. The black suits could have been handed down from founding members and the most technologically advanced part of their show were the microphones attached to the horns. But their sound, more at home in a 1930’s speakeasy than a 21st century rock club, transcends generations and can be enjoyed by anybody with a pulse. In an era where the supposed “brightest minds in the biz” are trying to find ways to reinvent the industry in order to save it, they should all be taking note from PHJB. When a formula works, it doesn’t need changing, and if something is of quality, people will pay for it. Instead of trying to figure out what the next big thing is, Preservation Hall Jazz Band demonstrates that sometimes success can be found by looking back towards your roots.

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[Published on: 11/25/13]

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