Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews spends considerable time away from New Orleans and the people and places that molded him as a musician. But anyone tempted to think he has forgotten who he is and where he comes from need only listen to the opening minutes of his new “Parking Lot Symphony” album, his first release for Blue Note Records.
“Laveau Dirge No. 1” is, as the title suggests, a dirge. Andrews shows off some majestic trumpet soloing, accompanied by baritone saxophonist Dan Oestreicher and tenor saxophonist BK Jackson, of Orleans Avenue, his globe-trotting band of local musicians. Listeners not familiar with New Orleans music and icons may wonder who the “Laveau” of the title is. Or why Andrews, who as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ opening act on a recent arena tour cranked out 40 minutes of party music nightly, opens his latest album with such a mournful melody.
Locals know that the Voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, whose citation in song is something of a cliché at this point, is buried blocks from where Andrews grew up in Treme. And they know the music he wrote for “Laveau Dirge No. 1" evokes what he heard at the jazz funeral processions he followed through his neighborhood as a boy.
Andrews doesn’t always stick so close to home on “Parking Lot Symphony.” His ambitions reach well beyond Orleans Parish, as his incessant international touring over the past few years has demonstrated. Playing “New Orleans music” exclusively is not necessarily a direct path to broad-based stardom, as fellow New Orleanian Harry Connick Jr. has argued while describing the playlist of his daytime TV talk show.
The "Parking Lot Symphony" title track is a groovy slice of contemporary R&B/funk that calls to mind Lenny Kravitz, a Trombone Shorty mentor. So does the melodic, midtempo “No Good Time,” one of the strongest songs Andrews has ever written. It illustrates the considerable strides he’s made as a vocalist.
In “Dirty Water,” he channels his inner John Legend, smoothly working the upper edge of his vocal range over a Rhodes keyboard and Wurlitzer electric piano. His trumpet solo still sounds right at home in the arrangement.
“Familiar,” ironically enough, is the most foreign of all the songs. Andrews casts himself as an ultracool ladies’ man cruising an after-party, set to a ponderous arrangement with skittering electronic effects. He stiffly raps/speaks such lines as, “Now I remember, you was the one that was begging for me take you home.” "Where It At?" is a better distillation of similar ideas.
He’s on far more solid ground with a pair of classic Crescent City covers. The album’s second cut is a retooling of the Meters’ “It Ain’t No Use.” Orleans Avenue’s Pete Murano handles the bulk of the electric guitar parts; the Meters’ own Leo Nocentelli makes a guest appearance on acoustic guitar, lending a Spanish tinge to the opening. As might be expected on a Trombone Shorty version, horns figure far more prominently than on the original; a small choir haunts a brass detour.
Even more fun is Andrews’ faithful take on the Allen Toussaint-penned Ernie K-Doe hit “Here Come the Girls.” Orleans Avenue, augmented by Dumpstaphunk bassist Tony Hall and keyboardist Ivan Neville, recreates the playful stutter and strut of the original, commencing with Joey Peebles’ opening drum cadence. Andrews is comfortable navigating the tricky cadence of the verse. They embellish the track with a couple of funky detours.
Five of the album's 12 songs have no lead vocals and are mostly, if not entirely, instrumental. The two-minute “Tripped Out Slim” sounds like a brass blowout in a Treme nightspot. The undulating “Fanfare” features a slinky Murano guitar lick reminiscent of vintage Nocentelli.
The final “Laveau Dirge Finale,” the longest song on the album at 4:44, opens with a traditional jazz funeral cadence but quickly veers off in other directions; a glockenspiel gets involved. It eventually resolves with that haunted choir, as Andrews and his collaborators seek to move forward while still remembering where they are from.