Preservation Hall, The Hurricane Sessions

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Yes, these sessions have been ennobled by circumstance, becoming yet another artifact of Katrina-related poignance. And yes, there's a slapdash quality to tracks whose lineage hops haphazardly between 1959, 1970-76, and 2004-06. But this collection is a necessary stopgap: After residing within three miles of each other for untold years, the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have been flung from Florida to California by the flooding hurricane.

An iconic Nawlins jazz group keeps it bracingly real in the face of adversity.

More to the point, many of these songs are a wonderful way to disabuse yourself of the notion that traditional New Orleans jazz is stilted music played by old fogies in corny costumes. A Cab Calloway-inflected staple like “Complicated Life” (from 2005) is performed as an intensely tragicomic experience, loose-limbed and bittersweet. “Eh La Bah” (1972) nails the standard ingredients — percussive clatter, syncopated horns, shouted vocals and a tootling licorice stick — and features the husband-wife tandem of Billie and DeDe Pierce fronting the original PHJB. Further back, the 48-year old “I Don't Want to Be Buried in the Storm” is a bit of bold, harrowing retro-melodrama, with solo singer-guitarist Sister Gertrude Morgan wailing away on a searing acoustic Delta blues. Even Dr. John's “Blow Wind Blow” can't match the tenor sax splendor of Ernest Doc Watson on this version of Huey Smith's standard, also recorded in 1959.

You can chuckle at the way John Brunious's vocal contains more anguish than outrage on “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well” (2005) and marvel at how plainly the common root of blues, gospel and jazz is exposed on the dirge, “Precious Lord” (1970), memorably engraved with a dulcet clarinet solo by Willie Humphrey. Or you can surrender to the rhythms of the closing “It's Your Last Chance to Dance” (2006), and be thankful that it isn't so.