Although primarily known as one of the main proponents of traditional New Orleans jazz since debuting in 1961, New Orleans' own Preservation Hall Jazz Band has transformed over the past 20 years into an open-minded and stylistically adventurous ensemble. One of the main drivers of this creative metamorphosis is musical director and tuba player/bassist Ben Jaffe, son of Hall founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe. Since graduating Oberlin Conservatory and joining the band in the late '90s, Jaffe has worked to broaden the band's appeal and find ways to combine their joyous acoustic style with all sorts of artists and musical genres outside of traditional jazz. This was the approach they took on their 2011 bluegrass-steeped collaboration with the Del McCoury Band, American Legacies, and 2013's Jim James-produced That's It!; the latter of which was also their first album of all-original material including songs co-written with Semisonic's Dan Wilson. It's also the approach they take on 2017's ebullient So It Is. Produced by Jaffe along with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, So It Is showcases a soulful, bluesy, groove-oriented set of songs heavily influenced by the roiling, kinetic sound of Afro-Latin and Cuban bands. However, rather than playing standards of the genre like "The Peanut Vendor" or "Oye Como Va," here Jaffe and his bandmates deliver the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's second album of all-original compositions. Cuts like "Santiago" and "Innocence," both co-written by Jaffe and saxophonist/clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, are ferociously bumping, dance-inducing anthems built around titanically rolling drumbeats, evocative keyboard lines, and bristling, puckered horn riffs. Similarly, the kinetic "La Malanga," co-written by Jaffe and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (the grandson of Pete Seeger), is a carnival-level, mambo-ready jam replete with searing trumpet lines from Branden Lewis and an angular, post-bop-accented solo from pianist Kyle Roussell. Elsewhere, they dive deep into New Orleans R&B traditions on the funky, organ-steeped, minor-key, Dan Wilson co-write "One Hundred Fires," and borrow the brassy bombast of fellow New Orleans institution the Rebirth Brass Band on the vocal and handclap-heavy audience pleaser "Mad." Along with being a joyous and infectiously jubilant album, So It Is offers the one-two punch of letting the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play the kind of raw, no-holds-barred jazz and blues that they helped personally create a renaissance for, while surreptitiously luring their listeners into what often explodes into a full-on Afro-Latin dance party.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar