“Some got the blues/but I play the funk”, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews proclaims on the greasy delta/gulf coast funk of “Get the Picture”, on his latest album, “Say that to Say This.” And Shorty is not selling wolf tickets. The past several years have seen it’s fair share of funk revivalists from all sides, such as the Budos Band, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Dam Funk, Nicholas Payton, The Roots, Justin Timberlake, Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spaulding, Robin Thicke and RonKat Spearmen’s Katdelic. Shorty’s latest set however, is signifigant for being a well balanced, thumping, pounding funk album that plays within the paramenters of a genre established almost fifty years ago, without sounding like a retro or revival act. It’s funk for right now, sounding as if funk had continued as a developing and popular music from it’s deemphasis somewhere in the late ’80s, right alongside hip hop, with a nation of young musicians playing funk and finding a home on the charts and stages as a music of today, which is a good thing.
Shorty, a New Orleans trombonist and vocalist, three years younger than New Orleans rapper Lil’ Wayne, has gained popularity over the past decade for his sweaty, intense live shows and his tenure in Lenny Kravitz band. He records and tours with a band called Orleans Avenue, who join him on this LP, featuring Pete Murano on Guitar, Mike Ballard on bass, and drummer Joey Peeples.
Shorty mentioned his previous albums were recorded in the manner of many jazz albums back in the day, quickie affiars snuck in between extended road commitments. For this album, his band and he settled down in LA and took several weeks planning and putting it together, and the proof is in the groove pudding. “Say That to Say This (STTST) is a tight affair, 11 songs that breeze by in an enjoyable 40 minutes.
The album defies people’s conceptions of funk as a limited music, mixing funk rockers, New Orleans brass arrangements, hip hop beats, ’70s funk styles, ’80s funk styles and poppier tones into one odorous sweet pot of funk gumbo. The roux that sets this gumbo off right is the production combination of Raphael Saddiq and Shorty.
Raphael Saddiq co produced the entire album with Shorty, and the results are as booty shaking and head nodding as you’d expect. Saadiq himself has been one of the most prominent exponents of funky R&B and Soul from the late 1980s to the today. The first track Saadiq composed for the album was the instant summertime classic, “Long Weekend.”
“Long Weekend” is unique in the canon of modern funk songs. We have Funk that emulates the Meters, James Brown, and Afro Beat. We have a plethora of music inspired by His Royal Badness, Prince, another flock who graviate to the uptempo stylings of the King Of Pop Michael Jackson, and a whole tribe of west coasters for whom P Funk is the only funk. On “Long Weekend”, Shorty & his band and Saadiq go for a sound reminiscent of young funk bands in the early 1980s, the two it reminds me of the most are The Time and Slave. It starts off with a phat drumbeat and some rhytmic accents remeniscent of the The Time’s classic “777-9311.” The combination of the phat drums, rhythm guitar scratch, a major tonality, and Shorty singing in a youthfully exuberant high tenor voice, with a lyrical yarn about finally being old enough to date a long time crush, bring the funk at it’s brightest and poppiest, like Slave’s “Watching You”, or Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Unique and funky as it is, perched in the middle of the album, “Weekend” is by no means the only funky delight on the album, but it is a stand out track.
The album opens with “Say that to Say This”, one of four instrumentals, invluding “Vieux Carre”, “Sunrise”, and “Shortyville.” It’s an old saying that means “to make a long story short.” The song itself is a big, ballsy funk/rock opening cut, the type you could easily see opening up a Trombone Shorty concert. The song has the feel of a Lenny Kravitz funk track, such as “Straight Cold Player” from 1995’s “5”. The cut features a full horn section, and strong unison guitar and bass lines, with breaks for a tasty trombone solo from Shorty.
“You and I (Outta This Place) has a similar Kratitzesque funk/rock feel, with a strong 8th note pulse, rocking guitars, and a cadence borrowed from the end hook on Erykah Badu’s 2008 bass guitar classic, “The Cell.” The song tells a story of a couple either literally or metaphorically running together away from the world of gossip and lies that can destroy a relationship or the soul. Trombone Shorty sings and plays trombone solo’s on all these songs, and although the album is definitely a feel good music affair, it also has the lyrical depth of good funk, with lyrics that attempt to deal with realities and inspire, through the medium of having a good time.
“Get the Picture” features Raphael Saadiq contributing second guitar as well as playing the clavinet, on a groove that has the funky, greasy feel of a Meters tune. The song has a marching New Orleans drum groove, horns having a call and response conversation, and greasy Leo Nocentilli style guitar licks to boot. It’s great stop and start funk, with instrumental breaks and rests that protect the groove.
“Viuex Carre” is a wonderful instrumental with a New Orleans/Carribean flavor, built around a Carribean style rhythm, a well arranged large horn section sound playing melody and counter melody, call and response style. The song also modernizes the sound by inserting an 808 thump. Shorty brings the classic New Orleans feel, ornamenting his solo with growls and eloquent phrases. The song is filled with incessant horn riffing with a horn fan fare over the top of it. “Sunrise” is another instrumental with a beautiful, gentle feel. It features riffing horns and a horn melody over simple tamborine, with bass. The Drums don’t come in until around two minutes into the song, and never overpower the melody. It’s a beautiful song to gently start one’s days with. The last instrumental on the album is the sinsister powerful New Orleans funk of “Shortyville.” The song begins with an intense, deep in the jungle drum beat with Shorty playing the bass drum with a mallet, as the New Orleans street bands do. Saddiq and Shorty go on to create a whirlwind of funk activity as they’re the only two musicians on the song, playing every instrument. Saadiq plays a mean hip hop feel bassline on the trombone solo, and I love the unison horn figure mid way through the song, a beautiful funky riff, leading to ominous strings that set up another baad solo from Trombone Shorty.
The album also features something very historically relevant, the first time the seminal New Orleans funk band the Meters have recorded since their split in 1977. They re do a lovely ballad from 1977’s New Directions entitled “”Be My Lady.” Shorty takes over the vocal duties from Cyril Neville, who sings back up on this track. The song is a great exmample of the type of soul balladeering that funk bands could also do very well, and Shorty handles his duties ably, while the Meters band sounds like they never stopped recording.
All in all, Shorty’s album shows that funky music is still very much viable in todays day and age, and that funk can be built off various sources, including the classic sounds, rock sounds, hip hop, and regional ethnic grooves like New Orleans music, Carribean music, and Latin sounds. It will serve as a fantastic platform for Shorty and Orleans Avenue to tour! I suggest you see them when they hit your town, and support this album, which is exactly the type of music many of us complain does not exist anymore!