Saturday, December 22, 2012

God Preserve us

Serious jazz fans will scoff at these thoughts, but for the rest of us... imagine Jazz as dance music, featuring alternately X rated or forthrightly religious lyrics, being an underground phenomenon largely sustained as a grass-roots street culture tradition...

For those of us who grew up hearing our parents' Big Band favorites, and then the increasingly abstract stylings of the post-Bop scene the above statements seem utterly absurd and yet...

That's exactly how Jazz originated in the opening decades of the 20th Century before being superseded by alternately slicker Big Band and more cerebral Bee Bop and post-Bop styles rendering the earlier form, "Hot Jazz," a quaint relic.

But then aficionados from around the country converged on New Orleans in order to enjoy and then nurture the remnants of original Jazz culture that had survived as a strictly local phenomenon. And one result of this was in the inauguration of Preservation Hall, an art gallery who's owner invited "Hot Jazz" old timers to come and perform as much to indulge his passion for this music on as conveniently as possible as to give them additional opportunities to perform together and perhaps make a few extra bucks. And 50 years later, the Preservation Hall community is still going strong, in fact having become a successful mini empire employing dozens of musicians playing regularly at the flagship venue in New Orleans, mounting multiple touring units,recording and releasing myriad albums -- guaranteeing that early Jazz styles remain a vital and LIVING tradition.

Columbia Legacy's "50th Anniversary Collection" box set is a thoroughly reverent and comprehensive yet thoroughly lively, boisterous collection documenting the music that's come from this operation over the past five decades. The running order of this material is purposely NOT chronological, instead mixing recordings from all eras of Preservation Hall's existence and from a wide variety of line-ups. What's immediately striking is how comfortably it all sits side by side even when some seemingly anomalous elements are added - a lead vocal by Tom Waits on one track, the entire Del McCroury Band sitting in on another track, etc. It's powerful testimony as to the impact Hot Jazz has and continues to have on American music - Waits' take on "Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing" would be perfectly at home at any of his own albums from "Swordfishtrombone" onwards. Clearly the many musicians that have contributed to Preservation Hall over so many years have maintained a very consistent high level of artistry, preserved all the essential formal elements of the Hot Jazz style and immerse themselves in the passion that this music was intended to incite.

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