"They don't give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it ain't what they call rock and roll."
— Mark Knopfler
Trombone and trumpet master Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews is that rarity, a guy who can play on equal terms with jazz legends or cross over to crank out a high-energy, crowd-pleasing rock/funk show. Which is what he did Sunday night in a performance rich in the heritage of New Orleans.
Andrews' in-concert style — he calls it by the not very original-sounding name of "supafunkrock" — is looser and more improvisational than the playing on his records. "Backatown," the album for which he's best known, updated New Orleans styles with heavy use of synths, loops and samples. The live show runs to more extended, good-time, horn and guitar-based jams that mix New Orleans classics with funk and rock.
And makes people get up and dance, dance, dance.
After a happy, bouncy opening set by the irresistible Ozomatli lit up the crowd, Andrews' band laid down a meaty groove for his entrance, trombone in one hand and trumpet in the other, in black T-shirt and shades.
The opening jam was upbeat and brassy with some wild rhythms from drummer Joey Peebles and screaming guitar by Pete Murano. That soon segued into a flashy take on Rage Against the Machine's signature "Killing in the Name." The band followed that with a very funky version of Allen Tousaint's "On Your Way Down," which they played at a much faster tempo than the Little Feat version you probably remember. When you're this tight, why not?
Andrews' band, Orleans Avenue, is a young outfit. Murano and Peebles and Mike Ballard on bass, Dan Oestreicher on baritone sax and Tim McFatter on tenor sax can rock your socks off, but they also impart a jazzy edge to most of the show. And as they get deeper into the show, you can see them increasingly key in on what Andrews is doing, a group mind thing that usually takes years to achieve.
Andrews has charisma galore and is as comfy as if he's been doing this his whole life, which he has. He grew up in New Orleans' Treme neighborhood marching in brass band parades as a little kid, where he got his nickname. After studies at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, he toured with Lenny Kravitz while still in his teens.
He was among the New Orleans musicians who recorded the benefit album "Sing Me Back Home" after the failure of the levees there. Performing with U2 and Green Day raised his profile, and he began winning jazz awards and appearing at events such as the 2008 NBA All-Star game with fellow New Orleanians Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. He founded Orleans Avenue the next year.
Nowadays you can take Andrews out of New Orleans, but you can't take New Orleans out of him. How many 25-year-olds could sing an epic "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," the old Mardi Gras rave up by Jessie Hill, and bring it from deep within?
Andrews method is to serve up a gumbo medley with long jams, squeezing in snippets and quotes of old classics, usually from the Big Easy. Thus Huey "Piano" Smith's R&B chestnut "Don't You Just Know It" shows up in the wake of "Ooh Poo Pah Doo." Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba (Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba!) Ah ha ha ha (Ah ha ha ha!).
Likewise, "Feet Can't Fail Me Now" morphed into the old Fats Domino single "Whole Lotta Lovin," which in turn gave way to a "battle within the band" with Andrews watching the players closely as if to see if their instruments would burst into flames.
A Louis Armstrong-like "Sunny Side of the Street" gave everybody a chance to show off more jazz chops, and Andrews the chance to stretch out with vocal phrasing as impeccable as his trumpet playing. After more funk, as deadline called a reviewer away, the band played a down and dirty "St. James Infirmary," and it's seldom sounded sadder, even if it did somehow manage to include a nod to Cab Calloway (Hidy Hidy Hidy Ho). In a strong Britt season, this may have been the most entertaining show of all.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.