Its very name speaks to the old ways, and keeping them as they always were. And for a long time, maybe too long, that’s the way it’s been with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Until now.
The five-decade-old group, led these days by the youthful second-generation visionary Ben Jaffe, is releasing its first-ever album of original material. Gone are the animated retellings of timeless early jazz hits from the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong — with whom many of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s initial members once performed. In its place are 11 new songs, composed by Jaffe (who wrote or co-wrote 10 of the compositions here, including that stomping title track), Clint Maedgen (author of the darkly romantic “August Nights,” and contributor to the memorably regal “The Darker It Gets”) and Charlie Gabriel (who contributed to a trio of tracks), among others.
There’s an important outside voice overseeing things on That’s It!, due July 9, 2013 from Legacy Recordings, in producer Jim James of My Morning Jacket. He has worked in tandem with Jaffe, whose parents Allan and Sandra Jaffe founded the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 1961, in crafting an album the nudges this mythical New Orleans institution into uncharted waters.
Not that That’s It! abandoned the texture and feel of old. In fact, far from it: The album rumbles and sways with all of the unvarnished rag-time joy (“Yellow Moon”), winking Big Easy humor (“Rattlin’ Bones,” one of two songs co-written by Chris Stapleton), unreconstructed second-line fervor (“Sugar Plum”) and determinedly pre-war atmosphere (“Come With Me,” “Emmalena’s Lullaby”) that have for so long been a part of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band myth. It just does so through the imagination and musical vision of a new generation.
That, by the time That’s It! is over, comes to feel like the best way to preserve this legacy — not as a museum piece, but as a living, breathing, madly swinging entity.