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Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue: Denver, CO, December 29, 2012

Geoff Anderson By

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Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
Ogden Theater
Denver, CO
December 29, 2012

"Supafunkrock." That's the word singer/trombonist/trumpeter Trombone Shorty coined to describe the music he and his band Orleans Avenue play. The term captures only part of the ingredients the band mixes into its musical mélange. Besides funk and rock, the band adds generous helpings of soul, blues, hip-hop and jazz. Mostly, however, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue sets out to create one big party. And it's no wonder; they're from New Orleans, after all.

Friday night, just before the new year, Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, brought his New Orleans party to the sold-out Ogden Theater in Denver. TSOA matched the broad range of styles with an equally wide time span from which the group drew its material. The single largest source of tunes was from the band's Backatown (Verve Forecast, 2010) and follow-up For True (Verve Forecast, 2011). Most of the tunes the band played from these albums were band originals, with the exception of Allen Toussaint's "On Your Way Down."

The band also paid homage to its New Orleans roots (and trumpeter/singer Louis Armstrong) with Dixieland-era classics like "When the Saints Go Marching In," "St. James Infirmary" and "Down by the Riverside." Drawing chronologically from somewhere in between, the band covered Al Green's "Let's Get It On." And of course, any band heavily into the funk that also features three horns had to tip its hat to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The combination yielded a cross-generational appeal. Audience members Friday night ranged in age from several kids around 12 years old to a number of folks well into their 70s.

Ironically, Trombone Shorty played trumpet as much as he played trombone. That's certainly no complaint because the different registers of the two instruments added variety to the band's sound. Despite his nickname, Andrews wielded the trumpet just as confidently and forcefully as he did his namesake instrument. The band has obviously been playing together for some time and was tight and snappy throughout the evening. The horn lines weren't always played strictly in unison. The arrangements used punchy countermelodies that often hinted at a Dixieland sound. When grafted to a funky bass and drum line and a scratchy, syncopated guitar, the result was a big chunk of Bourbon Street landing right in the middle of downtown Denver.

Throughout the two-hour show, Andrews proved his showmanship as well as his musicianship. Not surprisingly (for a show like this), he frequently solicited audience participation with call-and-response sequences, sometimes even requiring the crowd to sing a syncopated riff; the Trombone Shorty audience delivered. Toward the end of the show, Andrews plunged into the throng down front with his wireless mic and an extremely nervous security guard close behind, emerging unscathed (a victory for the security guard). At another point, Andrews organized a dance contest for the band members. And to further the personal connection with the fans, Andrews sang about half the songs. Although not his strongest point, his vocals were more than adequate. If Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue were strictly an instrumental act, their popularity would suffer. People like to sing along, after all.

At age 27, Andrews has assimilated a wide variety of American music and come up with a sound not quite like anything before. This exciting new sound, the exuberance, the virtuosity and an ambitious touring schedule are making Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue a true force on the live music scene.

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