By Frank Alkyer | Published September 2022
This five-piece band from Richmond, Virginia, has been making music for more than a decade now, but took a giant leap forward with critical raves and adoring new fans for its 2020 release #KingButch. Offering a blend of hip-hop and jazz, the band is part of a growing movement to expand or even blow up the definition of both genres. That theme continues with Triple Trey, where the core unit is joined by the R4ND4ZZO BIGB4ND, a side project for the group’s bassist and arranger, Andrew Randazzo. The result is an album of dance-worthy music that is both majestic and earthy. And there’s a reason for that. Much of the music for Triple Trey was written and released on BandCamp early in the group’s career. Now it’s rearranged with big-band punch, but it’s not your grandfather’s big band. “We wanted everything to slap a little harder, you know what I mean?” said Corey Fonville, the band’s drummer, in the October 2022 issue of DownBeat. “We’re the hip-hop generation, so you’re going to hear those influences just from the stuff that we listened to in the car, that we’ve grown up checking out.” Nowhere is that more apparent than on the band’s take on the Nortorious B.I.G’s “Unbelievable.” An ear worm from the drop, it hits with the repeated opening rhyme of “Biggie Smalls is the illest” rapped by Marcus “Tennishu” Tenney, the band’s vocalist — who is also a talented multi-instrumentalist playing saxophones and trumpet. The horn lines here are infectious and Fonville’s drum groove — unstoppable. “Unbelievable” and “Liquid Light,” featuring a killer saxophone break by Tenney, both appeared on #KingButch, but become revitalized with the backing of the big band. “Lawd Why” is another beautiful offering coming at the ears one part prayer, one part confessional, all wrapped up in a question that many ask daily: “Tell me lawd, please, tell me, please, lawd, why?” “777” is a master work in three parts with a lush intro featuring Tenney on trumpet this time. It delivers heart-and-soul personified. For the core of the tune, he switches to rapping about trouble, sure, but also something better. The outro offers a moment of ahh, or awe, with a beautiful big band arrangement that evokes a feeling of hope. Triple Trey is a beautiful recording front to back. Tenney, Fonville, Randazzo, DJ Harrison on keyboards and Morgan Burrs on guitar have a tight, thoughtful vibe to their art. Randazzo’s involvement in both the quintet and the big band makes the melding of the two seamless. It’s a project of great ambition from the RVA that merits multiple listens.