It’s been quite a few years since the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, under the leadership of tuba man/bassist Ben Jaffe, shook off the notion that it still played the same purely traditional jazz for which it originally and deservedly gained its fame. Its latest venture, revealed on its highly acclaimed and cleverly titled documentary, A Tuba to Cuba, explored the many rhythmic and cultural connections between New Orleans and the island nation. Now it has been captured on an album of the same name, and is producing a similar musical delight.
Following an intro by PHJB saxophonist Clint Maedgen, the ensemble gets right into it with a “vocal sample” by Cuban singers from the film, which seamlessly transitions into a Mardi Gras Indian groove. Throughout the album, the music sails between the two musical ports and often seemingly meets mid-sea. Brandon Lewis’ trumpet and vocals on “I Am” pronounce him as an artist at home in both countries or, perhaps more accurately, a man of the African diaspora.
Music is a universal language, and the great veteran saxophonist Charlie Gabriel musically speaks of love and caring to all people on the planet on his softly soulful solo contribution, “Corozon.”
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band takes it to the street on “Keep Your Head Up,” with a female vocalist adding the Cuban flavor by digging in hip-hop style with some Spanish lyrics. Where are we? On the streets of Havana or New Orleans? Well, both or either one.
The prevailing elements on Tuba to Cuba are the superior musicianship of the entire PHJB, which has continually filled its ranks with some of New Orleans’s finest players, and poured obvious love into the music. The affection for our neighbors to the south—our musical brothers and sisters really—fills the final cut, “Malecón,” with its traditional Cuban sway, orchestrated by the fine Preservation Hall Jazz Band.