It’s Trombone Shorty’s world — we just live in a little corner of it temporarily unoccupied by his huge, hypnotic personality.
That was the feeling at the 53rd annual Monterey Jazz Festival on Saturday, as New Orleans sparkplug Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews electrified the main arena crowd in the afternoon and turned the auxiliary Garden Stage into joyous, writhing, sardine-packed mass a few hours later.
Together with the HBO series “Treme,” Shorty is helping recreate New Orleans culture for the post-Katrina era. His music manages to incorporate just about every cliche about the Big Easy, yet horn player/singer/MC makes them come out sounding fresh and powerful.
Part of it is his sly music sense, which remains rooted in Crescent City tradition but incorporates invigorating aspects of rock and hip-hop culture. He calls it “Supafunkrock.” I kept seeing an unholy DNA splice between Louis Armstrong and Jay-Z.
Another part of it is Shorty’s charisma; this is as man who’s made playing the trombone look sexy. after all. (Perhaps he could do a rehab job on the clarinet’s image next?)
Finally, there’s the source material. There’s nothing more instinctively appealing than New Orleans jazz. It just took a personality as strong as Shorty’s to make it sound new again. Even a warhorse like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which closed out his arena set and had the audience in near-hysterics as he alternately MCed, blew the horn like a demon and channeled his inner Satchmo.
Also on the main stage Saturday:
- Jazz may have been born in whorehouses, but there’s nothing wrong with a little salvation, especially when it comes in a package as charming and charismatic as singer Naomi Shelton. Backed by a crack band that included James Brown veteran Fred Thomas on bass and the fine vocal trio of the Gospel Queens, spread joy and a hopeful message with the insistence and consummate ease that can only come from decades of experience.
- Pianist Billy Childs teamed up with San Francisco’s modern music champions, the Kronos Quartet, for a specially commissioned piece that, somewhat surprisingly, worked quite nicely. At times, “Music for Two Quartets” sounded like an unusually tuneful version of the kind of contemporary classical work Kronos is devoted to. Other time, it had Charlie Parker-with-strings vibe. The Kronos fellows had the good sense to lay low in the portions where drummer Brian Blades and saxophonist Steve Wilson were really feeling their oats, and the whole thing was a nice testament to Childs’ careful, intellectual style of composing and playing.
- It’s a fine thing that pianist Chick Corea regularly mixes up his bandmate selection. Working with saxophonist KKenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Haynes, Corea was free to show a more ruminative side of his muse than might be inspired by working with, say, his Return to Forever mates.
- Behold the power of the scat singing, at least when wielded by a talent as formidable as vocalist Dianne Reeves. The singer indulged her skeedle-a-dee-doo jones with joyful abandon, hitting a high point as she morphed a playful rendition of “”Twelfth of Never” into a wordless Latin jazz vamp that showed words are but one way to communicate vocally.
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