Trombone Shorty’s “Parking Lot Symphony” Takes Up New Spaces in Jazz

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If the instrument you play becomes part of your name, then you must be quite adept at playing said instrument. That appears to be true with Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. The New Orleans-based musician earned a distinctive reputation in his hometown and beyond (he appeared on the HBO series, “Treme”) before releasing his debut album “Parking Lot Symphony”.

 Released in May 2017 on Blue Note Records, “Parking Lot Symphony” is a surprising blend of artistry, jazz history, and urban swagger. The cool thing is, Trombone Shorty makes it work. When the terms “effortless” and “flexible” are used to describe the qualities of jazz instruments, the trombone usually isn’t one of them. Not since the 1920s when the “strangled trombone” sound added dangerous flair to early jazz songs has the big brass horn competed so effectively for listeners’ attention as it does on this release. The trombone is second only to the tuba in being relegated to blatting out notes in low, flat tones.

            

But Trombone Shorty is a teacher here, or rather, a professor, really. Guilty listeners figure out quickly that they have misjudged the trombone. The overall effect on the album is a series of sinewy, yet muscular songs that show where jazz has come from a century ago, and where it is going in the 21st century. 

            

To give audiences the jazz history lesson, Trombone Shorty treats listeners to classic jazz songs, but the standout, and the one track that is receiving the most coverage is “Bring in the Girls”. I understand that there is no Great American Songbook without a bit of come-hither. None of the uniquely American genres exist without plenty of these tunes in their canons. But what I wasn’t expecting was a different sort of swagger—the display of virtuoso playing and smooth power vocals that makes the song beyond typical. “Here Comes the Girls” is reminiscent of Bruno Mars and vintage, horn-backed R&B. The vocals, lead, and backing, are smooth and unhurried. The sound is rich without being overbearing, or without plodding along, and the snappy drums that opened the piece are consistent throughout.

            

The history lesson comes with the placement of songs. The opening song is “Laveau Dirge No. 1.” Yes, it is a dirge, but it possesses a strength that inspires audiences to pay attention to it. It is not a mopey dirge, it is an homage to jazz styles of yesterday. In fact, dirges bookend the release, as “Laveau Dirge Finale” closes the album. Audiences are invited through the song’s calm to listen to the components of the instrumentation and imagine (if they would) the early days of jazz, when the music was all but outlawed, mostly for (allegedly) encouraging interracial dancing. But dirges are mourning songs, and so this song is to jazz what an ode or elegy is to poetry.  Trombone Shorty does not disappoint with “Parking Lot Symphony”.

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