Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, once again, incorporates all of the fun but none of the fussy formalism of the New Orleans tradition in his new recording, For True.
A contemporary, and vividly frisky, blending of funk, R&B, pop, hip hop, jazz and fusion, Trombone Shorty’s second national release is due today from Verve Forecast. Andrews wrote or co-wrote each of the 14 tracks on For True, produced by Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman, and in many ways the album mirrors the talented horn player’s Grammy-nominated, Billboard jazz chart-topping 2010 release Backatown. That is to say, it’s great dance music — simultaneously aware of its roots, and willing to transcend them.
One in which it doesn’t: For True is peppered with guest stars, something that might work to broaden the audience for Andrews — something he richly deserves — but could also, I feared, lead to a compilation-style unevenness. I needn’t have. Trombone Shorty, a force of nature, more often than not simply blows past such worries.
“Buckjump,” the shotgun-shack rattling opener, pairs Andrews with Rebirth Brass Band — perhaps the most famous of the Crescent City’s brass bands — and Fifth Ward Weebie, a local rapper who combines R&B and bounce. The song, goosed along by a rubbery bassline courtesy of Mike Ballard from Andrew’s band Orleans Avenue, builds outward from street-parade sass into a repetitive hip-hop cadence that only makes it more irresistibly danceable.
The connection with the New Orleans funk-jazz jam band Galactic, by the way, goes beyond Ellman’s work at the mixing board. Drummer Stanton Moore appears on both “Lagniappe Part 1, and Part 2.” Moore and Ellman’s bandmate Robert Mercurio plays bass on “Mrs. Orleans,” which also features Kid Rock — who memorably raps about “Fats’ rings” and “Endymion kings.” And a few of the songs, notably the thumping instrumental “Dumaine Street” (maybe the best cut here), wouldn’t sound at out of place on a Galactic project.
“Encore,” undulating and aggressively fonky, is punctuated by the wailing slide cry of Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule), and Andrews’ Lenny Kravitz-esque vocals. (Kravitz himself plays bass on the subsequent “Roses,” a tune that strongly recalls “Show Me Something Beautiful” from Backatown.) “Nervis” is one of those great 1970s-era space-grooves, featuring Ivan Neville (on clavinet!) and uncle Cyril Neville (The Meters, the Neville Brothers). Jeff Beck, with whom Trombone Shorty appeared during this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, stops by for the R&M romp “Do To Me,” unleashing a torrent of microtonal brilliance.
I’ll double check, but I think that’s all of them. His over-stuffed guest list probably speaks as much to Andrews’ desire to move beyond convention as it does to the current trend of cravenly appealing to a mass audience by, well, over-stuffing the guest list. Really, though, his is such a unique and doggedly appealing voice — on the trombone, trumpet and mic — that Trombone Shorty scarcely needs the help.
Check out the title track, which smacks of Dick Dale by way of the West Bank, courtesy of a whoa-man surf guitar turn by Pete Murano. The chorus to “The Craziest Things,” all whoops and hollers, sounds like a house party, set to a series of impossibly bright brass blasts. “Unc” has a late-night tango-type mystery, while the sensual, stop-start soul of “Then There was You” (featuring singer Ledisi; there’s one more!) allows Andrews an opportunity for some muscular, spit-flying outbursts. On “Big 12,” he layers horns on top of horns until the entire song trembles with an almost angry menace.
In the end, though they don’t necessarily slow Trombone Shorty’s momentum on For True, those big names still felt unneeded. There’s a combustible energy to his work, a volatile joy, that stands on its own.