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The New Cool: Seattle's True Loves truly love collaboration

Photo by Abe Beeson
The New Cool recommends the blue vinyl edition of the True Loves' new album, if you can find it.

Rhythm is the core of the retro-modern soul jazz outfit The True Loves. Their new album, Sunday Afternoon, however, gets its heart from the horns. New Cool host Abe Beeson talked with two members of the True Loves' all-star horn section and got an inside look at the band's latest album.

Trombonist Jason Cressey and saxophonist Gordon Brown have been playing with the True Loves since the band's beginnings around seven years ago. The band's first album, Famous Last Words, made them soul-funk heroes in the Pacific Northwest. The music on Sunday Afternoon should earn the band nationwide and even international attention.

The band's retro-instrumental R&B and funk sounds are meant for listeners who want to dance, but the True Loves are heavily informed by the jazz tradition. Cressey tells me, "We made the Billboard chart in the album's first week, and it was on the Contemporary Jazz chart." Further inspirations come from horn-heavy Latin jazz and the modern rhythms of hip-hop.

Brown explains that the new album also shows off the band's "weird" side: "The direction that we're taking ... we're trying to be a little more experimental and veer away from the traditional funk and soul."

One of the key differences between the albums is the lack of Delvon Lamarr's Hammond organ playing. That leaves Jimmy James' guitar as the only chordal instrument in the band. Unless you understand a killer horn section, that is. "We're also a chordal instrument, together. Like one hand of a piano," Cressey explains.

Teamwork is critical for the True Loves' horns. Putting their musical egos to the side allows them to write as a "backing band working with a vocalist. From there we expand out," Cressey says.

Further, the tempo determines a song's personality as the band is focused on a variety of paces for getting listeners dancing. "Tempos are derived from where we envision people want to dance and groove," he says.

Cressey points to his love of the New Orleans brass and funk tradition as a key source of his contributions to the True Loves. "You're definitely hearing sounds of New Orleans brass bands, street band, second line sounds. ... It's a huge imact on the (horn) section," Cressey tells me.

Credit Photo by Nate Gowdy.
True Loves (l-r): Bryant Moore, Gordon Brown, Jimmy James, David McGraw, Skerik, Iván Galvez, Jason Cressey, Greg Kramer.

The four True Loves horns understand the complexity of their interplay, and they know their musical roles in the ensemble.

"The roles we take in the horn section varies," Brown adds. "We pass along that responsibility amongst ourselves, and do whatever the song calls for."

Though the True Loves began with the trumpet of Polyrhythmics' Scott Morning, the two-trombone and two-saxophone combination gives the band a special sound. Cressey says, "Trombone is such a powerful instrument, it can cover what the baritone sax is doing all the way up to the trumpet - it's a very flexible instrument. We arrange the band so that one of the trombones is playing up high," while the other plays in a more traditional trombone range.

Brown points to his early collaborations with Cressey in the Seattle-based second-line New Orleans brass band Tubaluba as a direct connection to the True Loves' funky sound. The trombone-saxophone combination, "is a unique sound," Brown says. "People call us out for that. 'I haven't heard that combination before, and you guys make it work.' Our sound is just a lot heavier."

As for their front-line partners, Brown honors modern-jazz icon Skerik, who focuses on his baritone sax with the True Loves. He says, "It's such a joy having him in the True Loves! He brings so much personality to the stage, and his playing is phenomenal ... great soloist, great section player."

In the trombone section, Cressey says of Greg Kramer, "The first show we played together was with (rap star) Macklemore's band. He's a great trombonist and the sweetest guy you're gonna meet. We're both completely different trombone players; it's a beautiful weaving we do together in the band. It's beautiful to be able to work with him."

Accompanying the new album, the True Loves produced a video for the title song that puts the band in the rolls of a gang pulling off a heist. Cressey says it's a nod to frequent fan comments about the band's soulful built-for-a-film-score music. "We often get comments referencing our music to 'that car chase,' it's very cinematic."

Gordon Brown's only appearance in the video is a suspicious photo. "I was out of town," he says. "They asked me to submit a photo and - poof! - I'm in the video. Hopefully I'll be in the next video."

The True Loves write most of their songs together, building from the rhythm section grooves of guitarist James, bassist Bryant Moore and drummer David McGraw. Then, Cressey says, "the horns add their tidbits. Everybody contributes."

Check out the Cressey-Brown composition "Objects in Mirror" on the New Cool Friday night. A punchy, up-tempo groove from the James-Bryant-McGraw rhythm section leads to ensemble horn lines. After establishing the song's catchy theme, Jimmy James lays down a doubled guitar solo that threatens to ignite your turntable. McGraw's brief drum break opens the door to a ferocious bari sax solo from Skerik and returns to the hook and sudden finish that will have you dropping that needle right back at the beginning.

"It was honestly one of the easiest and quickest tunes, and it definitely shines. I think it's one of the best songs on the record," Cressey says.

Brown recalls the song having a longer journey to completion. "I just remember it sitting on my laptop for about a year. Anytime I took a flight and had a lot of downtime, I would open it up and try to flesh it out. At some point I handed it off to Cressey to complete."

Don't miss The True Loves co-headlining (with Smokey Brights playing first) at Woodland Park Zoo's summer concert series ZooTunes on Aug. 11. You'll also find them on the massive lineup for Fisherman's Village Music Fest in Everett in early September. Summertime was made for The True Loves.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.