SAN FRANCISCO — “You must have really good taste in music,” said Preservation Hall Jazz Band bassist and tuba player Ben Jaffe shortly before midnight as the group and the remaining members of a second line parade that had just marched through the Fillmore to the stage synched up their watches to lead to a countdown into 2020.
The legendary New Orleans jazz band headlined the celebratory evening with help from recent collaborators Lakou Mizik, a Haitian musical group that has recently been making waves for mixing traditional Haitian creole with Caribbean music and more modern Afro-pop.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band played well past the balloon drop but kicked off the set around 11 p.m. with the funky “Keep Your Head Up.” Jaffe (the son of the band’s founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe), saxophonist Clint Maedgen, trombonist Ronell Johnson, drummer Walter Harris, pianist Kyle Roussel and trumpeter Branden Lewis seemed looser than when they performed at SF Jazz last summer. While that show carried a more formal air, this performance must have been closer to seeing the band at its namesake Preservation Hall in New Orleans. It didn’t take long for shirts to become untucked.
By the second song, “One Hundred Fires,” Johnson was waving his trombone over the first couple of rows of revelers. The band members took turns soloing on the song, from 2017 album So It Is. Each musician shined, though it was Johnson, again, who seemed to stand out for the funkiest licks on the song that dripped with a dirty funk.
On “Saint Peter Street,” it was Roussel who had the largest spotlight with a blistering piano solo in between gang-style party vocals of the rest of the band. “Sugar Plum,” off 2013’s That’s It!, “Tootie Ma” and “Convergence” led to a climactic “Mad,” also from the 2017 album.
“I ain’t gonna do this/ No matter what you do babe, I ain’t mad at you!” the group sang, with the crowd echoing the lines. A couple of songs later, several of the band members—the mobile ones—climbed to the second floor through the backstage area and began the aforementioned second line parade through the balcony, collecting members of Lakou Mizik and dancers and VIP ticket-holders carrying colorful parasols. The line made it down the main staircase and into the hall, briefly splitting the room in two before the crowd converged around them.
Jaffe, the de facto bandleader, spoke about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s connection to San Francisco, including the local organizations, such as the Mondavi family and Stern Grove Festival, which have provided a stage over the years, and then naming off the various cities the group has played in recent years.
“This is like my second home,” he said as the band repeated the first few bars of “Auld Lang Syne” (the traditional New Year’s Eve ball drop song) over and over. “You all are like my second family.”
That led into the big countdown and a festive balloon drop. But the band wasn’t done yet, going right into traditional New Orleans song “Iko Iko,” initially popularized in 1965 by The Dixie Cups; 2004’s “Go To The Mardi Gras” and a few other songs.
Lakou Mizik was a contrast to the headliners, though many of the music’s influences were the same. The group, performing as a septet, marched onto the stage in a procession and began with a couple of mostly a capella numbers, aided only by some soft percussion. Though the group sang in Haitian Creole, the subdued nature of the vocal delivery seemed to suggest an intonation or a sort of prayer for the evening. Then the group let loose with its mix of traditional Caribbean sounds, funk and rock.
Led by guitarist Steve Valcourt and singer Jonas Attis, the group took turns singing and playing lead, including its eldest member Sanba Zao, who is one of the leaders in Haiti’s roots music movement.
Lakou Mizik performed mainly songs off its new album HaitiNola, which was produced by Eric Heigle of The Lost Bayou Ramblers, who had also produced two albums for Arcade Fire. The record includes collaborations with the likes of Regine Chassagne and Win Butler of Arcade Fire, Trombone Shorty, Tank and the Bangas and Anders Osborne. None of them made the show, though Heigle himself drummed on “Renmen,” their collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
On “Mizik Sa Yo,” there were even some punk rock strains and serious guitar riffing, which showed the band’s range, while the use of traditional rara horns—traditional instruments still popular in Haiti—provided the brassy flair and danceable rhythms for the performance.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.