There’s no telling how Trombone Shorty’s latest album, “Say That to Say This,” will be remembered in the future. The CD was only released in September, and how “Say That to Say This” will impact the course of Trombone Shorty’s music and career – or music in general - won’t be known for some time.
The album still might become a commercial breakthrough for the New Orleans-based trombonist/trumpet player. Perhaps it will be hailed as an artistic high point in his young career. Or, maybe “Say That to Say This” won’t have any such dramatic impact and it will go down as just one of many albums that make up Trombone Shorty’s catalog.
But before those or any other outcomes begin to take shape, “Say That to Say This” – his ninth studio album – has already done something few albums achieve – it’s made history.
That’s because this is the album that brought together the original members of the seminal New Orleans band, the Meters, to record together for the first time in more than three decades. They back Trombone Shorty on “Be My Lady,” a song the Meters first recorded on that group’s 1977 album “New Directions.”
The significance of the occasion is not lost on Trombone Shorty (whose real name is Troy Andrews).
“They know how much they mean to New Orleans music, and I know how much they mean,” Andrews said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t know what the contemporary sound of New Orleans music would sound like if the Meters didn’t do what they did.”
The influence of the Meters, indeed, can’t be overstated. During their initial run together from 1965-1977, Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste (with Cyril Neville added to the lineup a bit later) forged a trailblazing sound that blended funk and the traditional second-line rhythms of New Orleans with rock, jazz and soul.
While Art Neville and Porter have continued to perform as the Funky Meters over the years and the original members have done an occasional live show, they hadn’t been in a studio together until Andrews did the improbable and coaxed them into recording “Be My Lady.”
The idea of the reunion happened casually enough. Andrews had been working on “Say That to Say This” and one day was riding around New Orleans with his cousin while they listened to some classic music made in that city.
“We were listening to all that old music from New Orleans, the Meters, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Ernie K. Doe, and for some reason we were really excited about that, as if it came out while we were living,” said Andrews, who was born in 1986.
“So the Meters thing came on and I was like ‘Man, they’ve got everything that represents my band, vocals, horn parts, funky grooves, and I was like ‘Let’s re-do that song,’” Andrews said. “‘I’m going to get the Meters to play with us.’”
His cousin laughed off the idea, but Andrews was serious. And he had one thing in his favor. He personally knew the members of the Meters and considers them to be like his uncles.
The elder musicians had watched Andrews as he grew up, starting out as a precocious child prodigy – he started playing trombone at age 6 – going on to attend the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts before embarking on a recording career that has now seen Andrews release a half-dozen acclaimed albums that have established him as arguably the brightest young talent on the city’s music scene.
So Andrews phoned each member of the Meters and presented his plan.
“I told each one of them that, and there was a silence on the phone when I said that,” Andrews said.
“I reached out (first) to George Porter and I said ‘Man, I want to do ‘Be My Lady’ from y’all’s record, ‘New Directions,’ but I want to get the original cast.’ Like I tell you, no joke, no lie, I told each one of them that, and there was a silence on the phone when I said that,” Andrews said.
But he could tell that, if reluctant, they were also intrigued by the idea. One by one, they signed on.
“Be My Lady” is one of many high points on “Say That to Say This.” Its silky funk sound provides a relaxed change of pace on an album that finds Andrews continuing to develop his distinctive hybrid of New Orleans funk, jazz, soul and gritty rock ’n’ roll. This collision of styles is especially effective on songs like “You and I (Outta This Place),” “Fire and Brimstone” and the title track, where guitar riffs, punchy, sharp syncopated rhythms and jazzy horn lines make for a modern, enervating and original type of New Orleans music.
The rocking character of the music is what sets Andrews apart from other New Orleans artists. He credits a touring stint shortly after graduating from high school with Lenny Kravitz with helping him figure out how to bring rock music and his New Orleans roots together in his sound.
“That situation changed my whole mentality, changed my life,” Andrews said. “Once I did that, I was able to come back to New Orleans and add what I learned from him to my New Orleans (sound). Now you had the sound that you hear now.”
Trombone Shorty and New Orleans Avenue are busy bringing their energetic music to the people on a summer tour and introducing audiences to songs from “Say That to Say This.”
“We’ve been doing some music from our previous records and then we’ve been trying to slide in four or five songs from the new record here and there,” Andrews said.
“We’re just trying to figure out what’s a good way to slide them in. We’ve been doing it mostly toward the end of the set, after we get everything out of the way. Then we hit them full swing slipping in the new material there. So it’s been really cool.”