Trombone Shorty – Parking Lot Symphony
(Blue Note. CD Review by John L. Walters)
There’s no-one quite like Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty. He’s no. 1 in a class of his own making, with a great back story (see ‘Illustrated gumbo’ in EYE Magazine) about the children’s picture-book of his life), and the weight of great expectations on his young shoulders. Andrews has a fine voice, but he is fundamentally a brass soloist (trombone and trumpet) who sings, putting him more in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and Roy Hargrove. He is not trying to compete with pop stars like Lenny Kravitz (with whom he toured early in his career) but he’s showing – like George Benson and even Herbie Hancock – that he can do vocal-led dance-oriented pop and R&B pretty well, thank you very much.
Parking Lot Symphony, his first album for Blue Note, throws together a grab bag of music styles in what some critics have interpreted as a lack of direction. I beg to differ – the relaxed and open-minded manner in which Andrews draws from black music heritage is part and parcel of his appeal and identity as a jazz musician and entertainer. And it is a highly musical album with enough depth and ambition to get away with the ‘symphony’ in the title. There are several co-composers besides Andrews, noticeably producer/arranger Chris Seefried, and there are two top-notch covers – extra-brassy versions of Allen Toussaint’s Here Come The Girls (a 1970 hit for Ernie K-Doe once used for a Boots TV advert) and The Meters’ It Ain’t No Use. Andrews and Seefried broaden out the latter track – a magnificent mid-tempo slice of 1970s rock-soul – by appending the chiming, ten-chord sequence that also lies at the heart of Laveau Dirge No. 1 and Laveau Dirge Finale, the instrumentals that bookend the generous eleven-track album.
Of the other instrumentals, Tripped Out Slim channels James Brown with a hollering, New Orleans-style relish, Fanfare is a jam that harks back to the Meters, and Like a Dog aims for thrilling electro-pomp.
Familiar ventures into contemporary R&B territory with parody of a paranoid R&B stalker – Andrews delivers the song tongue-in-cheek, with lashings of electronically enhanced brass. Dirty Water has a deliciously Sly Stone–influenced groove, while No Good Time is a soul anthem with a literate, churchy arrangement that tugs at the heartstrings. Maybe these tunes don’t need tight arrangements and jazz solos in order to function as feelgood music, but everything sounds so much better with horns. Where It At? (with its ‘I just want my heart back’ hook) has a laid-back groove, sneaky organ chops and an intoxicating backbeat concluding grandly with choir and strings – possibly a nod to Kamasi Washington’s magnificent The Epic.
Best of all is the title track, written by Andrews and Seefried with Alexander Ebert, a spine-chilling slice of soul-jazz that summarises everything Trombone Shorty does well; a beguiling vocal melody that grows to a grand conclusion (and a short trombone solo). As a bandleader, singer, songwriter, arranger, composer and producer who is fundamentally a jazz musician, Andrews has trodden deep in commercial swamplands where few dare go, and he’s come back smiling with a terrific album – entertaining and full of substance.