In May 2005, the Charmaine Neville Band undertook what was to be a six-month recording project: to record her weekly performances at Snug Harbor, where Neville had performed on Monday nights since the 1980s. It was to be a window for the listener into what a jazz band can do and how it can evolve, given the security and freedom that come with a long-running residency. That plan was altered halfway through, along with the rest of the city’s history, when Hurricane Katrina shut Snug Harbor down in August. Before the Storm, taken from the project’s first three months of performance, is what Neville produced instead.
Before the Storm is structured like Neville’s Snug Harbor sets, moving comfortably through original compositions and a wide range of cover songs, from “Tell Me Something Good” to “Yellow Submarine” to “Night in Tunisia.” Her long-time band assimilates that diverse material to its own laidback groove. It’s comparatively rare, in New Orleans, for a jazz vocalist to have three months’ worth of recordings and credit only one keyboardist (Amasa Miller, who plays accordion in addition to his performances on piano and synthesizer), one bassist (Zak Cardarelli), one guitarist (Detroit Brooks), and one drummer (Gerald French). Their familiarity with one another comes through on Before the Storm, and the interplay between Miller and French, in particular, is evidence of the supreme confidence that years of collaboration have built. The band is tight.
Before the Storm sounds like Snug Harbor, too, in the recording’s crisp quality. It brings out the way that room delivers every note to the listener. At times, what comes across in the club can get repetitious on the recording; as the tracks clock in at longer than six minutes, we can start to want more variation in the instrumentation or style. As a document of what we nearly lost on Monday nights at Snug, though, Before the Storm shows the Charmaine Neville Band swinging, just as it always has.