No one should ever mistake the Olympia Brass Band for the ReBirth or Soul Rebels brass bands. Besides obvious differences in age, the two camps stand at opposite ends of the brass band spectrum. The young members of ReBirth and the Soul Rebels concoct a buck-jumping, funky, loud hybrid of brass, rap and funk, and will wear just about anything when they’re doing it. The gentlemen of Olympia, on the other hand, are guardians of the old-line brass band flame. Their attire tends toward the traditional brass band uniform of white shirt, black tie and pants, and captain’s cap, which they don to march alongside the casket in a jazz funeral (though they will, for their Sunday night gigs at Preservation Hall, forego the uniforms in favor of matching T-shirts that declare “I Love to Second-Line”).
It was the desire to document the old brass band sound before it is diluted forever that motivated New Orleans Jazz Preservation. Olympia makes a strong case for the old ways. Throughout the generous 13-cut, 75 milnute CD, the Olympia ensemble plays with heart and spirit while remaining respectful to the musical tradition it sought to honor. The program is mostly standards – “This Train Is Bound For Glory” “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” “Panama Rag,” “Tiger Rag” – buttressed by a couple of originals by trumpet player/producer Milton Batiste. A stroke a few years ago left Harold Dejan, Olympia’s spiritual leader, unable to play saxophone. But every Sunday at Preservation Hall, the irrepressible Mr. Dejan still fronts Olympia, rising from his chair to sing in an ancient voice laden with character if not finesse. The cuts he sings on Jazz Preservation come across as extremely personal and intimate, as if the listener is sitting at his feet at Preservation Hall.
A couple of preservation-minded young ‘uns pay their respects as well: trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr., both of whom have come out of the Crescent City and pushed the envelope of contemporary jazz on their own records, blend in seamlessly with their elders throughout the disc. Their presence is an appropriate cross-generational gesture, but one that was not necessary-the venerable men of Olympia made this century-year old music sound like it was conceived yesterday.