Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall has in its years achieved iconic status, but alas today the musicians for who it was established have passed on being replaced by musicians whose musical backgrounds are perhaps a bit more modern and while they may pay homage with their performances, it is not quite the same. Preservation Hall though has plenty of musical memories that have been archived from a variety of performances. A typical one is the double CD, “Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band” (Preservation Hall Recordings) that was remastered in 2004 from a 1964 Minnesota concert with a band that included Sweet Emma Barrett on piano and vocals; Alcide ‘Slow Drag’ Pavageau on bass; Emanuel Sayles on banjo; Joseph ‘Cie’ Frazier; Jim Robinson on trombone; Willie Humphrey on clarinet; and Percy Humphrey on trumpet. Despite the crediting of Sweet Emma, a case could be made for Percy Humphrey as leader as he makes some of the introductions and chats with the audience (he was also leader of the legendary Eureka Brass Band at the time). But that isn’t a significant issue as annotator William Russell notes Bunk Johnson’s observation, “That all real New Orleans musicians know this style, and at a moment’s notice can play with one another anywhere they meet. Yet most New Orleans Bands also have their own unique style.”

In any event the music on this CD is a pretty solid and representative sample of traditional New Orleans jazz as would have been heard during the sixties and seventies. The repertoire is standard even including “The Saints,” but there is a spirited “Chimes Blues” that King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band recorded in 1923 taken at a nice relaxed tempo along with the spiritual “Closer Walk With Thee,” with a vocal from Sweet Emma, followed by a spirited “Didn’t He Ramble,” with the Humphrey Brothers handling the vocals on a song that would be played coming back from the cemetery after a funeral. Throughout Sweet Emma plays her rollicking, percussive piano style reinforced by Sayles clipped banjo with Willie Humphey’s serpentine clarinet lines contrasting with Jim Robinson’s gruff tailgate trombone and Humphrey’s growling trumpet (especially on “Panama”). Even when the tempo is quick, there is a relaxed rhythmic feel to the performances even during the most frantic and frenzied ensemble sections such as with the rendition of “Little LIza Jane,” with its second line rhythms. In contrast, St. James Infirmary,” taken at a slow parade tempo. Of course “When The Saints Come Marching In,” drew an enthusiastic audience response.

This is not cerebral music, but music of the heart. There are sour notes heard and the ensemble portions have a sweet and sour flavor, and the vocals may sound amateurish. This does not detract from the soulfulness and feeling in the performances coming through and one’s feet are tapping the floor throughout This is music that will lift your spirits if you are in a funk. I purchased this CD several years ago and I happily note that it still is in print. Among other sources, it is available from amazon and Preservation Hall’s own website.

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