In Oakland, Trombone Shorty & Chili Peppers Create Red Hot Groove

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Trombone Shorty opened for the alt-rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on March 11. (Photo: Stuart Brinin )

The category now known as “Rising Star” in the annual DownBeat Critics Poll once went by the moniker “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition.” Judging from their reception March 11 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue has comfortably ascended to the status of Talent Receiving Wider Recognition.

As the support act for veteran alternative rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP), Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his cross-genre sextet gave a funk-fueled performance for a capacity crowd at the home of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors. Throughout his 35-minute set, the December 2011 DownBeat cover story subject charmed a receptive audience.

Andrews and his musical crew are no strangers to big stages. In addition to participating in the Bonnaroo Music Festival and both the Coachella and Outside Lands Music and Arts Festivals, the high energy band was the middle act on a package tour last year that was headlined by Hall & Oates and opened by the late Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.

After a solo multimedia set by drummer and founding RHCP member Jack Irons, Orleans Avenue drummer Joey Peebles helped usher in the band’s first number, the full-blooded “Backatown,” from the 2010 Verve Forecast album of the same name. The song also featured a biting electric guitar riff courtesy of Pete Murano that may have raised eyebrows at a traditional jazz festival, but felt right at home as part of RHCP’s 51-city, 58-date North American tour. The army of rotating spotlights projecting out from the back of the bandstand certainly helped set the supersized mood. 

Andrews presented muscular lines on his trombone, receiving cheers upon completion of his well-wrought solo as he hoisted the instrument above his head. Tenor saxophonist B.K. Jackson and baritone saxophonist Dan Oestreicher combined to form a “horn section of doom” with their deep tones permeating throughout the cavernous venue. The three frontline musicians concluded the piece by playing a tightly unified horn riff together along with Peebles’ beat, recalling the two-saxophone-and-drummer trio Moon Hooch.

On “The Craziest Thing,” from the album For True (Verve Forecast, 2011), Anderson showed off his skills as a vocalist. Sporting sunglasses, a white t-shirt and jeans, he projected a casual yet distinct charisma. Oestreicher and Jackson broke into some synchronized moves that added to the sense of showmanship and fun. At the song’s conclusion, Andrews declared that he and his bandmates came from New Orleans to party, and those in attendance responded approvingly.

With a nod to his hometown, Andrews then broke into The Meters’ “Ain’t No Use” and made his way to stage right to serenade fans in true front-man fashion. He encouraged Jackson during the tenor saxophonist’s solo with the house responding in kind before the three horns expertly interpolated the distinct melody from singer/songwriter Susanne Vega’s early ’90s pop hit “Tom’s Diner.”

For “One Night Only (The March),” from Backatown, the bandleader temporarily switched to trumpet and was equally at ease. His extended solo incorporated circular breathing and concluded with dazzling upper register trills—each to the delight of the increasingly raucous assembly.

Though it only received a few whelps of recognition, Green Day’s “Brain Stew” was a perfect selection for the occasion: The East Bay punk rock trio (whose songbook was the basis for the jukebox musical American Idiot) has co-headlined its hometown Oracle Arena, back in 2002 when it was known as The Arena in Oakland, and will be headlining the neighboring Oakland Coliseum in August.

Andrews’ slithery trombone was a natural substitute for Green Day lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong’s yowling vocal style. The band dove deeper into the alternative music repertoire by segueing into agit-rockers Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade.”

Closing with “Do To Me,” the three horn players were situated off to stage right, facing one another in a triangle formation and playing unaccompanied until Peebles joined on tambourine. Bass guitarist Mike Bass-Bailey locked in a hypnotic groove that propelled a Murano solo. Judging from this and other jazz festival appearances, Trombone Shorty and his bandmates in Orleans Avenue are comfortable in front of many a different audience.

Just as Andrews and company are a reflection of their experiences and upbringing in New Orleans, so too is RHCP a product of metropolitan Los Angeles. The group exudes L.A. pride, from the Lakers logo adorning bassist Flea’s ax to the lyrics of their 1992 hit “Under The Bridge,” which Andrews and his band have quoted in previous live performances.

Intriguingly, RHCP opened their set with a recording of Eric Dolphy performing “God Bless the Child.” Unfortunately, Andrews and his saxophonists didn’t sit in at all. The horns might have been a nice addition to RHCP’s popular “Californication” or cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”—their breakthrough hit from 1989.

There were other opportunities for jazz hybridity. RHCP touring keyboardist Nate Walcott is also a trumpeter and a Glenn Miller Orchestra alumnus. A former Jazz Studies Major at DePaul University, he could have provided some colorful extended harmonies.

Bass guitarist Flea and drummer Chad Smith make for a notable funk-rock rhythm section, with the former at times jumping around like a younger Verdine White (of Earth, Wind & Fire fame) and slapping like Marcus Miller. The group’s selections of Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot,” Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair” and Funkadelic’s “What Is Soul,” in turn, may have had a certain appeal to the “blues and beyond” segment of DownBeat’s readership. DB


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July 2017
Bill Frisell
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