Five years ago, a lot of people were wondering what the brightest young star of New Orleans music, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, was going to do next. Music industry insiders in Los Angeles and New York urged him to go all in, but Shorty stood pat, touring constantly and rehearsing his band Orleans Avenue incessantly. He held firmly to a band concept he was developing: a hard-edged funk group schooled in hip-hop beats and rooted in rock dynamics but with plenty of room for improvisation in what was clearly a jazz tradition.
Shorty’s patience—the characteristic most important to the kind of stardom he wanted for himself—paid off in a jackpot last year. He got a major label deal from Universal affiliate Verve, and Backatown had elements of jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop and pop merged in a bouncy crunch that sounded like a lot of different New Orleans musical styles ranging from Galactic to the brass brands. It confused critics, but it jumped out of the stores, hitting the top of the Billboard Jazz charts.
Then Shorty did something even more shocking. Like a general well-versed in The Art of War, Shorty pressed his advantage, getting a new recording, For True, out while Backatown was still reigning atop the jazz chart. The record is of a piece conceptually with Backatown, but this time, Shorty has seasoned it with a mix of celebrity turns, bringing in co-stars from Ledisi to Warren Haynes to Kid Rock. “Buckjump” picks up where Backatown left off, a catchy funk/hip-hop instrumental driven by a punching horn chart from the Rebirth Brass Band and a big-voiced trombone solo from Shorty. The chanted vocal exhortations from 5th Ward Weebie work brilliantly off the rhythm track. “Big 12” (a tribute to older brother James “12” Andrews?) is another medium for Shorty’s trombone, while “Do to Me” rides on a trombone break and a great guitar solo from Jeff Beck.
Shorty doesn’t make you wait long to demonstrate his other instrumental skills, playing a dynamic trumpet solo through most of the driving title track and weighing in on organ, drums, piano, keys, synth bass and percussion across the album’s 14 tracks. The members of Orleans Avenue have grown along with their leader; bassist Mike Ballard co-wrote a couple of tracks on the album, while Pete Murano on guitar and Joey Peebles on drums continue to dazzle with their no-holds-barred attack. Dwayne Williams adds subtle but essential percussion textures, while Dan Oestreicher on baritone sax and Tim McFatter on tenor sax join Andrews on the blaring but intricate front line. Ivan and Cyril Neville help out on “Nervis,” and Lenny Kravitz reprises his cameo from Backatown with a guest appearance on “Roses.” Ledisi is terrific on “Then There Was You,” and Warren Haynes turns in a hot guitar solo on “Encore,” co-written by Shorty and Motown legend Lamont Dozier. Perhaps the ultimate example of Shorty’s greatness is his ability to make Kid Rock sound relevant on “Mrs. Orleans.”
Still, after two high quality albums a year apart, some claim to know what’s best for Shorty. People ask where Juvenile and Mystikal are, but we don’t have to worry about that. Shorty has peppered For True with showcases in exactly the manner hip-hop’s major artists do it, being generous with the limelight but in charge and aware of the flow. And we have no idea what Shorty is cooking up next.