Trombone Shorty: Backatown
Horn player/singer delivers a delicious balance of rock, R&B and jazz that is destined to become one of the essential projects of the year
Eclecticism has its rewards. For Trombone Shorty, it’s the opportunity to take what is traditional and turn it into something more polished, refined and trendy. The new star on Verve Forecast holds in one hand a shiny trombone and in the other a microphone designed to broadcast his Lenny Kravtiz-style vocals to his audience. But he uses his New Orleans gumbo of sweet jazz and adolescent funky R&B to bring the curious aboard. But there’s more spice thrown into the hot pot ranging from hard rock to hip-hop.
Troy Andrews grew up on the shoulders of New Orleans jazz and was immersed deeply into its musical culture beginning at the tender age of goo-goo-ga-ga. He picked up the trumpet, a pair of drum sticks and keyboards along the way – adding even more heat to his talented fire. On Backatown, Shorty, along with his live back-up posse’, Orleans Avenue, brings all those elements together for an interesting roller-coaster ride of modern jazz. They have proven to be a wonder when performing on the road, but previously independent releases failed to capture their on-stage ferocity. Backatown gets it all right: with a hearty production handled by Galactic’s Ben Ellman. Andrews handles most of the song writing on his own; proving also that he’s not just a simple. musical director. And his horn blasts and vocals are good enough to prove he’s more than just a jazz cat desperate for some out-in-the-front time. The album bears its dose of instrumentals like the contagious funky opener “Hurricane Season” (performed with the gusto of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces”), “In the 6th” and the title track. And there’s the tributes to the signature bayou jazz (“Neph”). But it’s Shorty’s bold expenditures into popular no-jazz zones that give Backatown the nerve and “Quiet as Kept” allows Andrews creatively turns his trumps and trombone executions into a dazzling array of distorted psychedelia. They tackle Allen Toussaint’s school of thought on “On Your Way Down” with guest appearance from the New Orleans vet. Andrews scores a few collaborative compositions with soul child PJ Morton on “Fallin’” and another social gospel anthem ”Right to Complain.” The latter is tied down to some Kings of Leon guitar riffs and some Beastie Boys “No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn.”
Ironic to hear how Andrews’s vocals bears the sexy cool sway of Lenny Kravitz, especially knowing that Kravitz was once his employer. Kravitz guest stars on the relaxed R&B-bluesy ballad “Something Beautiful.” The two engage in a quick horn/lead guitar exchange towards the back of the gem that perfectly showcases the brilliance of the genres coming together. He sneaks himself into some very impressive jazz-rock, spruced up with heavy metal precision, like on the “Suburbia” where the high volume rock arrangement is hammered into a dazzling brass layout). “Where Y’ At” and “The Cure,” additional rock instrumentals, is where the album’s intensity explodes into its reverberant non-stop listening pleasure. Luckily Backatown is sprinkled with these fireworks. The rock-infused tunes, surprisingly giving the horn section just as much rockstar power as the guitars, easily propel listeners into a spontaneous combustion perfect for the live experience.
This album is everything that jazz should sound like in the modern marketplace. Of course, it’s missing some of the fresh on-the-spot. But it’s just what jazz fusion should reach for in the 21st century. Backatown is an accessible project with all the right ingredients and elements for critical acclaim. Some will criticize its nature to bend the house rules of conventional jazz, but Shorty is just being true to himself. He’s picked up a number of influences along the way and he does a spell-bounding job in piecing them all together into one uniformed work without ever feeling sappy or contingent. Expect to see this collection pop up on some of the years’ end “Best Of” lists.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 20 Apr 2010
- Label: Verve Forecast
- Producers: Ben Ellman
- Track Favs: Hurricane Season, Something Beautiful, Quiet as Kept, Where Y’At, Suburbia, On Your Way Down