Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews' third Verve album, Say That to Say This, might be the one he should have cut first. Backatown and For True -- both produced by Galactic's Ben Ellman -- were as steeped in rock and hip-hop as they were jazz and funk; they were actually very experimental records yet both charted and were well-received internationally. This date, co-produced with Raphael Saadiq, is a much more R&B-oriented recording -- and proves a definite plus in a number of ways. Shorty's become much more disciplined, as revealed by this collection of groove-conscious soul and modern NOLA funk (and though it's more polished -- having been recorded almost wholly in Hollywood -- it is closer to what he does live). Things kick off with the title track, one of four instrumentals, led by Michael Ballard's whomping bassline. Though Shorty's horns were cut in NOLA, it feels like the band is playing live, with a Meters-esque groove. The call and response between his horns and Peter Murano's guitar is nasty. The Meters' trademark funk is at the heart of "Get the Picture," with Saadiq on backing vocals. The track is built on Murano's snaky guitar, Ballard's bubbling bassline, and Saadiq's vicious clavinet, with the vocal punch declaring its intention above Joey Peebles' knotty breaks. Speaking of the Meters, the original band appears here on record for the first time since 1978 with their ballad "Be My Lady." It's almost a carbon of the original that appeared on their New Directions album, with only modern production and the trombone solo adding new dimensions -- George Porter's bumping bassline and the gorgeous interplay of Shorty's and Cyril Neville's voices make it a highlight. The brief "Vieux Carre" weds a jazz chart to a Caribbean, Latin-tinged groove with Andrews playing not only horns but also drums with Saadiq on bass. The streetwise "Fire and Brimstone," introduced by Ballard and Murano, is a triumphant, militant anthem to survival and success amid the struggle of life in the Treme. Andrews' vocals and horns underscore the groove (his trombone solo highlights the transcendence in his lyrics), and Saadiq's wonky clavinet flavors it all. It's followed by the breezy jazz of "Sunrise," with Shorty's trumpet solo atop his trombone, his congas complementing Peebles' drums as Saadiq's bass and Murano's guitar sweeten the tune's vamp. "Dream On" is the brighter side of the rise-above-it-all sentiment expressed on "Fire and Brimstone" (though its lyrics are just as gritty) with beautifully arranged vocal harmonies. Say That to Say This closes with the punchy, harder-edged "Shortyville," an instrumental duet. Andrews plays all instruments save for a roiling, pocket-stretching bass played by Saadiq. Shorty's improvising is right out of the NOLA jazz heritage even though it occurs inside a modern funk number. Ultimately, with all of its confidence, production polish, and sophistication, this is the album that should break Trombone Shorty to a much wider, more diverse audience.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek