It’s not common for a jazz album which was made in a recording studio to really reach out and grab a listener’s attention. Let’s be honest here; jazz was originally music which was born onstage and developed there with the help of gifted players who spent hours crafting it, grooming it, refining it and making it the creature it is to this day. It didn’t come easy, but it came around. That’s one of the reasons Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s newest studio effort, So It Is, is so incredible: while birthed in a recording studio, it arrived fully formed and gloriously presented. The band didn’t take time to present an concept of what they were going to make, they just made it. It was all or nothing – just like it would appear on stage.
The proof of just how “close to live” So It Is was can be found on the new, Black Friday-issued EP (which actually only omits two songs from So It Is) run, Stop & Drop (The Needle); recorded (yes) live at Preservation Hall, the band seeks to show listeners where the methodology and mindset for the studio album came from.
Perhaps to prove a point, Run, Stop & Drop (The Needle) opens (just as the studio album does) with ”So It Is,” but it sure doesn’t feel like it’s starting the same way. Here, Walter Harris’ drums, Kyle Roussell’s keyboards and Ben Jaffe’s bass strut out headstrong and hard before what sounds like a fairly small audience, but there’s no question that there’s a bit of magic about it; you can almost HEAR the trio grinning because they already know how they’re going to orchestrate this performance, so if listeners aren’t going to sit back, relax and let them work, they’ll just “politely” PUSH them down into those chairs. It’s good-natured, but this is THEIR show and they want listeners (both those in the room and those listening to the vinyl) to pay attention.
At the two-minute mark (seriously – it is flawlessly measured and timed! How many musicians can do that on stage in real time?), the horns slice into the mix and bring any of those who might still be standing to their knees and the charge is set; in under three and a half minutes, Preservation Hall Jazz Band has taken complete control of the room and shown those in attendance how this is going to go; there are no sparks of chaos, nothing out of place; this is jazz which means the form is free, but it sure ain’t loose.
As the A-side continues, listeners will find that they’re simply unable to keep their jaws from dangling open, at least occasionally. The tight, one-two punctuation which reoccurs regularly through “Santiago” and the maelstrom rolling on the snare which dominates “La Malanga” defies quantification when it hits listeners – it’s simply unbelievable – but the most remarkable thing about it is how meticulously contained it all is; no song on the A-side of Run, Stop & Drop (The Needle) plays over six and a half minutes long, but is both so captivating and so busy that each feels nearly a side long in their own right.
When the horns mimic the staccato rhythm that the drums set up in “La Malanga,” listeners will feel as they’re being jubilantly hit with a series of jabs punctuated by a huge right hook at the song’s minute and a half mark, and will then just be left reeling ecstatically for the remainder of the song. It truly is something one needs to experience in order for it to be understood, that’s why this critic has included it as the streaming track here.
After the A-side has lapsed and listeners have dutifully started the B-side (and they will), “Convergence” begins the going by cutely pulling listeners along with the help of Charlie Gabriel’s tenor sax and then letting Roussell’s keyboard take over. Not one of the smooth and soulful movements through the song feels as though they were carefully constructed and the song feels as though it might be ending short but, upon second and third listens, it soon becomes apparent that there was nothing about every measure which wasn’t carefully manicured to fit together and, when it breaks for the gang vocal of “Mad” to open, listeners will be simultaneously elated and dazed.
As the side rolls to a close around those gang vocals too, they’ll feel dazzled and spent, but satisfied enough that they’ll be able to admit it; it’s true that the Run, Stop & Drop (The Needle) EP is technically a truncated release, but anyone who hears it will happily admit that it doesn’t play like one. This release is one of those rare occasions where, while it might be short, no one who hears it will complain that they feel shorted.
The Run, Stop & Drop (The Needle) EP was released in limited numbers on Black Friday. To find your copy, make your way down to your local independent record store right away!