Two bands the masses may not have heard of lit up the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday for a small but very musically savvy and enthusiastic crowd.
Judging by the performances turned in by the headlining Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and opening act the Alexis P. Suter Band, these groups will not remain unknown to mainstream audiences for much longer.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, a 28-year-old bandleader from the New Orleans neighborhood of Treme, began playing trombone at age 6, earning his nickname because his instrument was bigger than he was. That nickname may be a bit misleading now, as he is equally adept at trumpet and also shines brightly as a vocalist, as evidenced Jan. 17 on awe-inspiring versions of jazz standards “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “St. James Infirmary.”
Trombone Shorty has been playing with Orleans Avenue — guitarist Pete Murano, bassist Mike Ballard, drummer Joey Peebles, baritone saxophonist Dan Oestreicher, and tenor saxophonist Tim McFatter — since 2009, and it showed Friday. The sextet scorched the stage from its opening moments to its amazing encore, for which all six musicians gathered around Peebles’ drum kit and simultaneously pounded out an infectious rhythm.
The group has released three highly-acclaimed studio efforts, including 2010’s Grammy-nominated “Backatown,” 2011’s “For True,” which spent 12 weeks atop Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, and its most recent release, “Say That to Say This,” which currently sits at No. 7 on Billboard Jazz Albums chart after 18 weeks.
After two cooking instrumentals, Shorty showed his vocal chops on “Mrs. Orleans,” a tune the group recorded with Kid Rock from “For True.” On that same song, he also played trumpet at the beginning, tambourine as he sang, and a tasty trombone solo at the end.
He earned a standing ovation when he concluded a later instrumental with a trombone note held for what seemed like an eternity, and showed equal prowess on trumpet on other tunes, including his tour de force version of “St. James Infirmary,” which skillfully incorporated Cab Calloway’s signature “Hi-De-Ho” into a pleasing audience-participation number.
Trombonist Jeff Bradshaw joined the ensemble for the closing tune of the set proper, and then the band unleashed its wicked encore with Shorty seemingly turning into James Brown, complete with the dance moves and the “Get Up, Get On Up” phrasing, as Orleans Avenue brought its performance to a close by bringing the funk.
The Alexis P. Suter Band, featuring the powerful stage presence and amazing bass/baritone voice of frontwoman Suter, got the evening started with a very formidable six-song, 35-minute performance that left the audience dazed and clamoring for more.
Starting with the traditional tune “John the Revelator,” Suter set the tone with an awesome a cappella opening before the band, consisting of guitarist Jimmy Bennett, bassist Peter Bennett, drummer Ray Grappone, keyboardist and background vocalist Benny Harrison, and background vocalist Vicki Bell, kicked into high gear for a bluesy romp through the chestnut featured on the band’s most recent album, “Two Sides” (2011).
With all due respect to Sir Paul McCartney, the band’s take on “Let It Be” may have been the finest version of that classic ever performed, turning it into a soulful slow jam, highlighted by Jimmy Bennett’s wicked guitar solo and Suter’s gospel-like pleas.
The band then followed with an equally stirring version of its own “Rise” before closing with a fun rendition of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips (Hip Shake),” which brought to mind both the 1966 original and the Rolling Stones’ 1972 cover.
“For those of you seeing us for the first time, I hope you won’t forget us,” Suter said earlier in the evening.
Following Friday’s performance, there’s no chance of that.