Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Jim James (solo)

Jim James has spent the better part of almost two decades as the lead singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of My Morning Jacket. Through seven studio albums, My Morning Jacket has grown into one of the most acclaimed rock and roll bands in the world. The New York Times heralded the band as, “…the new kings of expand-your-mind, religious-experience rock…” Their last three albums, 2008's Evil Urges, 2011's Circuital and 2015’s The Waterfall, each received Grammy nominations for Best Alternative Album -- the latter debuting at number 5 on the Billboard 200 chart. Alongside the band's recording and touring, James has maintained a steady, bordering on voracious, flow of work.

In 2013, James released his debut solo record, Regions of Light and Sound of God. James wrote, produced and played all instruments himself (except for strings and some percussion) for the record, which was inspired by life and the 1929 novel (written in woodcuts), ‘God’s Man’ by Lynd Ward. It was named one of the best albums of the year by PASTE, MTV and FUSE and was “the year’s first great record” (GQ). A performance of track “A New Life” on the then-hosted Late Night earned high praise from the now-Tonight Show host, Jimmy Fallon just this year: “"…to this day my favorite musical performance was 'A New Life' on Late Night that we did...He [Jim James] is fantastic. I love him”.

James’ most recent work is the 2016 solo record, Eternally Even. Rolling Stone described as, “nine flamboyantly spiritual songs wrapped in creamy electronics and set to funk and hip hop beats...an eccentric, gently compelling pleasure. [Jim James] renders his change gospel with conversational grace, Bill Withers warmth, Sly Stone optimism and Neil Young conviction”. The album’s release saw him embark on a national tour with appearances on the Tonight Show, The Late Late Show with James Corden and a debut at #1 on Billboard Alternative chart. The album topped many year-end ‘best’ lists, with NPR praising the record’s “arresting, soulful … transcendent tunes”.

James has continued expanding on his zealous lists of credits, lending his voice to albums by the likes of the Roots, David Lynch, Brandi Carlile and John Fogerty and partnering with other artists on numerous side projects such as New Multitudes, Monsters of Folk, and T-Bone Burnett’s The New Basement Tapes. Known for his live performances, James has found himself in the touring company of those like Neil Young, Pearl Jam, and Bob Dylan – even appearing in the Dylan-inspired film, I’m Not There. He has embedded himself in the world of film and television, be it through the use of his music in various projects or his long-running relationships with those in the field. James has also established himself as a producer in his own right, producing records by Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dean Wareham, Basia Bulat and Ray Lamontagne’s most recent record Ouroboros (2016), the same year in which he collaborated with NASA for the launch of their Juno Mission and Sundance Film Festival and their “Freedom of Expression” event. Although having recently moved to LA, James has little plan to remain in one place. My Morning Jacket will tour the US this summer, including a stop at the famed Forest Hills Stadium in NYC. James will also be embarking on a mix of unique solo acoustic and solo full-band performances including stops at Newport Folk Festival, the 50th Anniversary of Monterey Pop Festival, and at the Kennedy Center Honoring John Lennon.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

At a moment when musical streams are crossing with unprecedented frequency, it’s crucial to remember that throughout its history, New Orleans has been the point at which sounds and cultures from around the world converge, mingle, and resurface, transformed by the Crescent City’s inimitable spirit and joie de vivre. Nowhere is that idea more vividly embodied than in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which has held the torch of New Orleans music aloft for more than 50 years, all the while carrying it enthusiastically forward as a reminder that the history they were founded to preserve is a vibrantly living history.

PHJB marches that tradition forward once again on So It Is, the septet’s second release featuring all-new original music. The album redefines what New Orleans music means in 2017 by tapping into a sonic continuum that stretches back to the city’s Afro-Cuban roots, through its common ancestry with the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and the Fire Music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, and forward to cutting-edge artists with whom the PHJB have shared festival stages from Coachella to Newport, including legends like Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and the Grateful Dead and modern giants like My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and the Black Keys.

So It Is finds the classic PHJB sound invigorated by a number of fresh influences, not least among them the band’s 2015 life-changing trip to Cuba. A visit to the island, so integral to the evolution of jazz and New Orleans culture in general, had long been in the works when President Obama’s diplomatic opening suddenly allowed for a more extensive journey than had originally seemed possible.

“When the restrictions were lifted,” says bandleader/composer/bassist Ben Jaffe, “It was no longer just about going down there and playing a concert. We were able to explore a bit more, which profoundly impacted the band not just musically but personally. In Cuba, all of a sudden we were face to face with our musical counterparts. There’s been a connection between Cuba and New Orleans since day one - we’re family. A gigantic light bulb went off and we realized that New Orleans music is not just a thing by itself; it’s part of something much bigger. It was almost like having a religious epiphany.”

Producer David Sitek, a founder of art rock innovators TV on the Radio who has helmed projects by Kelis, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold among others, offered both a keen modern perspective and a profound respect for the band’s storied history. Upon arriving in New Orleans to meet with the band, Sitek recalls he and Jaffe accidentally stumbling into one of the city’s famed second-line parades. “I was struck by the visceral energy of the live music all around, this spontaneous joy, everything so immediate,” he says. “I knew I had to make sure that feeling came out of the studio. It needed to be alive. It needed to sound dangerous.”

For those wary that a band with the rich history of the PHJB is tackling new material, Jaffe is quick to point out that Preservation Hall – which his parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded in 1961 – was never meant to be a museum. At its beginnings it broke racial boundaries to present the living legends of New Orleans music, living links to the origins of jazz. Today, with a band whose ages range nearly 60 years, the mission remains the same: to pass on the traditions while continually revitalizing it with new blood and fresh ideas.

“I see it as something that's necessary for the evolution and survival of New Orleans music,” Jaffe says. “Interpreting the repertoire that’s been around for a hundred years is one thing, but the challenge is to keep that repertoire and those traditions alive while at the same time being honest about who you are as a musician, allowing all of your musical influences to be reflected in what you create.”

While that’s always been a key component of the PHJB, whether at their world-famous French Quarter home or on stages around the world, it took on a renewed urgency in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “When something that catastrophic happens in your life,” Jaffe says, “it becomes important to understand and focus on the things that are most important.” The band began charting a new path with the release of That’s It!, their first album of original material, in 2013. So It Is continues and significantly expands on that expedition.

The music on So It Is, penned largely by Jaffe and 84 year-old saxophonist Charlie Gabriel in collaboration with the entire PHJB, stirs together that variety of influences like classic New Orleans cuisine. Longtime members Jaffe, Gabriel, Clint Maedgen and Ronell Johnson have been joined over the past18 months by Walter Harris, Branden Lewis and Kyle Roussel, and the new blood has hastened the journey into new musical territory. The album’s seven new pieces of buoyant, window-rattling funk find common ancestry with the Afro-Cuban sounds that the band heard in the streets of Havana (witness the NOLA-meets-Cuba bounce of “La Malanga”), Fela Kuti’s Nigerian funk and the entrancing melodies of Ethiopian jazz (most evident on the sinuous “Innocence”), the passion of envelope-pushing ‘60s jazz and soul pioneers, and the intense grooves of their modern Coachella counterparts – then filters them all through a Crescent City lens to emerge with something that compels the listener to move.

“When we play music, the barometer for us as a band is whether the locals are reacting,” Jaffe explains. “In New Orleans we play music for dances and parades, funerals and church. It's important to us to make music people connect to, that people dance to, that people really feel, emotionally and physically. That's the tradition we grew up with, that's what we know."

Preservation Hall Jazz Band:

BEN JAFFE – Bass (upright), Tuba, Percussion
CHARLIE GABRIEL – Saxophone (tenor), Clarinet
CLINT MAEDGEN – Saxophone (tenor), Percussion
RONELL JOHNSON – Trombone
WALTER HARRIS – Drums, Percussion
KYLE ROUSSEL – Piano, Wurlitzer, Organ
BRANDEN LEWIS – Trumpet

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Jim James will perform a full solo set to begin the evening at 9 p.m., followed by Preservation Hall Jazz Band. 

 

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