Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trombone Shorty "For True" (4*)

There’s a school of thought suggesting the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is going to be followed by an equally destructive reworking of New Orleans’ musical traditions, and you’d probably have every reason to believe that, yes, with the forced removal and relocation of so many previously tight-knit communities things aren’t going to be the same in the future.

Here, on the other hand, we’ve got a reminder that while you might take the kid out of New orleans you won’t necessarily be able to get the New Orleans out of the kid. At the ripe old age of twenty-six Troy Andrews (a.k.a. Trombone Shorty) is coming off two decades of involvement with New Orleans jazz and funk. When the influences are in that deep you don’t get them out unless you’re willing to consider major surgery.

Sure, there are the rap and hip-hop elements, but you’re likely to get them lurking in anything musical that’s coming out of America these days. There’s a rap in the middle of the latest Springsteen, and at that point I rest my case.

The real point is, however, that when outside influences things get to the Crescent City they tend to be reworked through a New Orleans sensibility. I’ve been listening to Heavy Sugar, and while you could look at it and label it as reasonably generic fifties and early sixties rock’n’roll and R&B there’s a stylistic thread running through the hundred and fifty tracks that, basically, says N’Awlins.

These things tend to run in families, or at least they do in New Orleans. Andrews is the younger brother of trumpeter and bandleader James Andrews and the grandson of singer and songwriter Jessie Hill (the man who played drums for Professor Longhair and Huey "Piano" Smith, wrote Ooh Poo Pah Doo, moved to California to work with Harold Battiste and Mac Rebennack and wrote songs recorded by Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, and Willie Nelson).

Hill’s grandson grew up in Tremé, started playing trombone at age six, attended the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, picked up a gig in Lenny Kravitz's horn section in 2005 and put his current pop/funk/hip-hop outfit Orleans Avenue (Pete Murano, guitar, Mike Ballard, bass, Dan Oestreicher and Tim McFatter, saxes, Joey Peebles, drums, and Dwayne "Big D" Williams, percussion) together in 2009.

2010’s Backatown hit Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart at #1 and held that spot for nine weeks. With that under his belt, tours across the Americas, Europe and Japan and Brazil (opening spots for Jeff Beck’s U.K.tour and Dave Matthews Band in the U.S.A.) and recording sessions with Galactic, Eric Clapton, Lenny Kravitz and Dr. John have started to build up an impressive musical CV.

He’s managed to acquire an impressive array of friends in the process, and For True, produced by Ben Ellman from Galactic (he also filled the role for Backatown) along with Orleans Avenue, there are guest appearances from the Rebirth Brass Band, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, Stanton Moore, Kid Rock, Ellman, Ivan and Cyril Neville, Ledisi and Lenny Kravitz to add extra dimensions to the Trombone Shorty Supafunkrock.

The result is a blend of traditional New Orleans jazz, funk and soul, intertwined with hard-rock power chords and hip-hop beats, fourteen tracks written or co-written by Andrews, who plays trombone (predictable), trumpet (he’s equally impressive there), organ, drums, piano, keys, synth bass and percussion. He’s no slouch as a singer either, and while he’s not quite up there with the very best of them when he’s that good instrumentally he doesn’t have to be.

All the same, compared to Backatown you get the feeling Shorty’s out to carve himself a niche in the mainstream. Tightly focussed, aimed straight for the dance floor or a standing only concert venue (this stuff ain’t gonna work as well with a sedentary audience) in the same way the recent Robert Randolph, For True is the basis you could build a killer live set around and then move copies at the merch booth as the punters are on the way out.

From the opening notes of Buckjump with added funk from the horn section from Rebirth Brass Band we’re firmly in contemporary territory, with rap interjections from some dude called Fifth Ward Weebie, a combination that’d probably having Hughesy turning off if it wasn’t so obviously New Orleans. Bounce is the local take on rap and from the evidence here and on Galactic’s Ya-Ka-May, it hits close enough to the New Orleans past to maintain a rap-negative old bloke’s interest, largely thanks to those street-parade  horns and a rubbery bass line that’s almost guaranteed to get the old booty a-shakin’.

Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule, a bloke who turn up all over the jam band scene in the USA) adds his trademark slide to Encore, which is the second track rather than the finale, co-written with Lamont Dozier (the Motown legend, no less),  grounded in a B-3 groove with Haynes over the top and intermittent brass punctuation.

Electric guitar, in fact, gets a fair run through the early part of the album, with Pete Murano channeling his inner Dick Dale on For True over a hip-hop beat and spitting trumpet from Andrews, while Jeff Beck comes to the party for Do to Me, chipping in with an obviously Jeff Beck or someone with very similar musical DNA solo to go with the Orleans Avenue bounce on a horn-heavy sing-along.

In Crescent City parlance, a lagniappe is a small bonus given to a customer (an extra doughnut when you buy a dozen, that sort of thing) and Lagniappe, Pt. 1, at a tad over a minute probably fits into that definition rather well. House party mode and the dance floor groove continue through The Craziest Thing, which, again, bounces along in house party mode, complete with big beefy blasts of booty-shaking brass.

Dumaine St. and Mrs. Orleans work the same territory, though I could have done without the Kid Rock rap on the latter, there’s a New Orleans superstar presence on Nervis as Cyril and Ivan Neville do their thing through a groove that hearkens back to the seventies.

Roses fits, more or less, into the same slot as Backatown’s Show Me Something Beautiful, and is, more or less Beautiful Mark 2, but the instrumental  Big 12 (a tribute to big brother James) with layers of horns piled on top of each other is straight back into solid groove territory, as is the Balkan tango Unc. A guest vocal from Ledisi on Then There Was You  brings the main proceedings to a close before another Lagniappe winds things up completely.

While there are bits and pieces here that will more than likely give a died in the wool traditionalist a fit of the screaming abdabs, For True captures the vibe of a high voltage rave in some New Orleans club, blending tradition and innovation, rock and funk, hip hop and Mardi Gras. More mainstream (or aimed at a wider audience) than Backatown it’s still a vibrantly eclectic of a continuing tradition. When’s the next one due?

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