Saturday night's show at Preservation Hall was, the band declared, not a jazz show.
“But recently I began to feel that maybe I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do and need to do with American musicians, who are imprisoned behind these bars; music’s got these bars and measures you know?”--Sun Ra
Since jazz was conceived, people have been saying that it’s dead, but on Saturday night at Preservation Hall, Yung Vul proved that at if nothing else the traditions of jazz are alive and well. Let’s make one thing clear; this was not a jazz show. Yung Vul prides itself in being a band that transcends genre classification. After the release last year of Cannonball Adderall, the group changed its name from Dominic Minix Quartet. "Quartet" gave the impression that the band was a jazz-fusion quartet, while the name "Yung Vul" is less genre-specific. This is true to Yung Vul’s sound.
Dipping into metal, rock, and hip-hop influences, Yung Vul creates dynamic, new sounds, but it is undeniable that jazz is its bedrock. The blues guitar and pulsing drum rhythms carried the group even in the height of their punk songs. Although Yung Vul is trying to break from being imprisoned behind bars of classification, the group follows the jazz tradition of blending genres, just as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Weather Report once did, and as Christian Scott and Robert Glasper have done more recently. Set against the backdrop of the historic Preservation Hall whose mission is to preserve jazz, it was hard not to see the jazz in Yung Vul.
The mantra of the show was clear before the audience entered Preservation Hall. Murmurs of “what this show is about” and “modern New Orleans music” could be heard in the crowd that lined up on St. Peter Street. But this was not a jazz show. Dominic Minix, the band’s frontman, made that clear before the first chord on the guitar was struck, stating that Yung Vul is not a jazz band, having been influenced by Radiohead, Bob Dylan, and Sade. You can hear these influences in the music. One drum beat during a jam eerily resembled the drums from Radiohead’s "15 Step," but the jazz was evident as well. Minix is well known and respected in the New Orleans jazz sphere for playing with Donald Harrison, Delfeayo Marsalis, Quinten Corvette, Shannon Powell, Roland Guerin, Jesse McBride, and Christian Scott. The quartet--Cyrus Nobipoor on trumpet, Nic Lefevbre on bass, and Michael Scott on drums--met at Loyola University and perfected their craft under New Orleans jazz teachers. Their influences and style are rooted in jazz, and it shows.
The show started with “Treat Me So Bad” from the Dominic Minix Quartet's first EP, Introducing, Nobipoor eased the audience into the show with his smooth trumpet riffs over Lefevbre’s soft yet vibrant rhythms. This was the jazziest song in the show and was strategically set as the opener to transfix the crowd. Preservation Hall’s intimate setting projected the sound perfectly, clouding the room in an ambient haze. Just as the audience settled into a groove, Minix ripped them out of it with a cover of “River” by Joni Mitchell, and the power and grit in his voice gave the impression that the song was more about skating away from oppression or social constructs than the song’s traditional love song vibe.
Every song played could be considered a highlight, but the standouts were “Wine and Cookies,”, Kanye West’s “Addiction,” and “Numb Me Now.” “Wine and Cookies” captured the vulnerability of the group. By the end of the song, Minix had the audience singing along, echoing the refrain, “wine and cookies, all I had today.” “Strange Addiction” seemed like a logical cover since Kanye samples Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine,” though Minix said after the set he didn't realize until that night that he was still doing a version of a jazz song even when covering hip-hop.
At Preservation Hall on Saturday night, Minix fervently asserts that he is not a jazz musician and the show was not a jazz show. That is something a jazz musician would say. It wasn’t a jazz show, but in so many ways it was.