Thursday, May 20, 2010

Frontier Revival, vol 2: Trombone Shorty

(Every other Thursday, FP highlights modern takes on folk, blues, jazz, and more)

Backatown (Verve Forecast) by Troy 'Trombone Shorty' Andrews and Orleans Avenue is a good record for opening up your chakras. These 14 tracks demonstrate a variety of sounds and styles; from hip-hop to jazz to rock to traditional New Orleans marches. Pulsing bass lines and strong second line snare work make your booty move. Your spleen will thank you for controlled power chord mayhem and a touch of rock and roll angst. Some hearts might melt at Shorty's hip-hop balladeering. Deft jazz improv and a multitude of instrumental solos satisfy your intellectual yen. But what unifies the record  is the superlative trombone playing and horn arrangements.

Andrews, 24, began playing trombone when he was just a sprout in the 6th ward of New Orleans, which includes the now HBO-famous Treme neighborhood, known to its residents as Backatown. Playing jazz and traditional tunes in clubs and on street corners led to local notoriety. This in turn landed him a touring gig with Lenny Kravitz, an important influence on young Shorty's playing, evident in some of the more pop inflected tunes. Kravitz himself provides the vocals and guitar solo on “Show Me Something Beautiful”. Nota bene; while his cameo lends buzz to this release, Kravitz, who hasn't been on the scene for a while, is definitely the one who benefits from this pairing.   Another guest star is Allen Toussaint, legendary New Orleans producer and pianist, who plays keys on his classic “On Your Way Down”, the lone cover on the record.

As these two old timers buttress Shorty's reputation as the real deal, another New Orleans legend makes a spiritual contribution. Shorty has cited Louis Armstrong as one of his most important influences. Satchmo was born and raised in the 6th ward, and the musical styles and traditions he helped to engender are strong elements of Backatown; most notably the jazz horn player as a front man, singer and prime mover.

But as Shorty insists, “I do jazz on the side,” as proven by “Backatown”, the album's title track, and “Suburbia”. “Backatown” features trance like synth arpeggios layered underneath a snappy brushed snare. The beat pulses on and suddenly the horn section arrives, giving the impression that a New Orleans funeral procession has made a left turn into a downtown dance club.


Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue - Backatown


“Suburbia” is the rarest of birds; a three minute rock and roll instrumental that one could imagine hearing on commercial radio. With chromatic power chords and loud, trashy cymbals, Shorty proves that the guy with the distorted guitar is not the only rooster in the hen house.  Perhaps an instrument that requires lubricant and involves vigorous back and forth motions is more overtly sexual than six wires strung across a piece of wood. 

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue - Suburbia


The genre that Shorty (or the folks at the record company) have come up with is “superfunkrock”. The moniker connotes party music and certainly Shorty and Orleans Avenue know how to bring the party. However given the depth and breadth of the music on Backatown this label seems limited. The stylistic variations make this record so intriguing, and the masterful playing, writing and production make it fly. Give it a try, at least one of your eight chakras will thank you.

Trombone Short & Orleans Avenue (featuring Lenny Kravitz) - Something Beautiful


No comments:

Post a Comment