Every time Mark Braud sang the line "we're going to jump and shout, we're going to turn this mother out," during the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's introductory number at the VooDoo Lounge on Friday, the heavyset tuba player Ronell Johnson thrust his substantial frame into the air.
Johnson's gravity-defying jumps of joy reflected the gleeful ambiance the eight members of the legendary New Orleans institution created for an audience of less than 200. For the duration of the 75 minute performance, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band proved that there's still plenty of life left in traditional jazz.
An outgrowth of the famous French Quarter venue, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been one of the standard-bearers of traditional jazz for over 50 years. The savvy marketing and unconventional artistic decisions of creative director Ben Jaffe have revived the band's fortunes in recent years. The ensemble has recorded and toured with Del McCoury's bluegrass band and has collaborated with numerous rock stars.
During Friday's outing, however, the band focused on the undiluted sounds of New Orleans. Renditions of the freewheeling "Go To the Mardi Gras" and the licentious "Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing" served as musical postcards from the Big Easy.
The octogenarian Charlie Gabriel explained that the lovely "Come With Me" was inspired by a conversation he had with the woman he would later marry, but his emotional reading doubled as a tribute to his hometown. "What a city you will see," Gabriel tenderly crooned. "All your dreams will come true in New Orleans." His upbeat vocals on the breakup song "I Think I Love You" were also exceedingly charming.
Gabriel is the heart and soul of the ensemble, but his band mates made valuable contributions. Braud is a serviceable vocalist but a fiery trumpeter. Freddie Lonzo almost stole the show with his funny vocal delivery on the novelty song "Rattlin' Bones" and with frequent blasts of greasy trombone licks. Saxophonist Clint Maedgen offered fine counterpoint to Gabriel's reed work. The rhythm section of pianist Rickie Monie, bassist Jaffe and drummer Joe Lastie Jr. insured that the audience never stopped moving.
Terrific showmen, all eight men placed more emphasis on accentuating the party atmosphere than hitting the right notes. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band's breezy approach to traditional jazz may rankle perfectionists, but during Friday's exceptionally vibrant performance the ensemble breathed new life into a style that's often derided as hopelessly hidebound.