BLOGARRHEA: Trombonist Matthew Hartnett Makes Spectacular Splash on 'Southern Comfort' Debut

By Mike Greenblatt | Feb 29, 2016 03:18 PM EST
'Bone man Matthew Hartnett (Photo : courtesy DL Media)

Move over Trombone Shorty! Born in Louisiana, raised in Texas, now based in Brooklyn, Matthew Hartnett, he of the big fat greasy trombone sound, has self-released the kind of debut that not only celebrates his musical upbringing, but drags it into the new year all gussied up with funky asides, hip hip-hop flourishes, soulful jams and jazz-rock fusion cliffs that get hard and heavy.

Southern Comfort is marching band madness, muddy Bayou water and delicious gumbo. It's the kind of statement where this eclectic musician has looked over the contours of his life and understood what has brought him to this place at this time. It's also the kind of brilliant CD Trombone Shorty has yet to make. "This is glory and pain. This is war and peace. This is happiness and devastation. This is duality. Beautifully flawed." - from Hartnett's own liner notes.

Listen to the hustle'n'bustle of "No Patience" and you'll feel the living throb of Brooklyn's lifestyle. Hartnett has amassed a core band of keyboards, bass, guitar, drums so he can blow fancy and free. Dig that "Pump and Drive" and you'll get a taste of his Texas Southern University Ocean of Soul Marching Band. (The tune's title refers to one of their signature dance moves.) This trip closes with "Da Crib" featuring vocalist Lachrisma Brown which, admittedly, takes some getting used to, except if you're from Houston.

Most Houston funk fans know of Swishahouse, the North Side label that pioneered in "chopped and screwed" rap music. Hartnett grew up on that stuff. He listened to DJ Screw with his slow tempi and beats that skipped. "That track is not for everybody," admits Hartnett.

"Culturally, it's completely different night and day," Hartnett tells Blogarrhea. "Everything in Houston is easy and comfortable; there's not much struggle going on. In Brooklyn, you have to fight every second and money drives everything, but in the south the culture is more about family. What I do like about Brooklyn, though, is the opportunity to be around a bunch of other young, progressive, cultured black people."

Spin this sucker and the first thing you hear is "I Surrender All," a saintly slice of testifyin' where Harnett's 'bone is joined only by Ondrej Pevis's church organ. "New Sunlight Lake Charles is another God-forgiving gospel as is "Glory Glory," set to the beat of a Crescent City Second Line, and "Thursday Night." In Houston, Thursdays traditionally means citywide church rehearsals. "If you're a working musician in Houston, on Thursday night, you're busy!" (I could hear Hartnett's smile clear through the telephone.)

(Photo : courtesy of DL Media)
'Southern Comfort' by Matthew Hartnett

Here's another thing about Houston and its relationship to New Orleans. Most folks don't know that, as Hartnett explains, "if you go to Dallas or Austin, you're not going to ask for gumbo or crawfish or etouffee. That doesn't exist anywhere in Texas except Houston. All the things you know and love as a product of Louisiana, you can get in Houston. That's my comfort zone."

When he arrived in Brooklyn in 2010, Hartnett came fully-formed. Gigs came and went in the bands of major R'n'B, gospel and rap stars. Those influences are reflected in perhaps the most commercial Southern Comfort track, "In & Out."

As wide-ranging and eclectic as this brew is, Hartnett swears up and down he did not purposely intend to showcase the diversity of his chops. "That's always been my musical preference," he argues in the face of the challenge that he's "showing off." "No man, it's just in me [naturally]. You know, we tend to gravitate toward things that resonate with us, and from gospel and Negro spirituals to R'n'B, that music resonates with me. I feed the music and music feeds me."

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