Though he's based in Brooklyn, trombonist/composer Matthew Hartnett is a southern boy at heart. Those roots are unearthed on Hartnett's debut album, Southern Comfort,
to be released on February 19. Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and
raised in Houston, Texas, Hartnett's music ranges from New Orleans brass
band sounds and the gospel celebration of the southern church, to
Houston's homegrown "chopped and screwed" sound and the smooth soul that
has landed him on stages with the likes of Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill,
Robert Glasper and Kirk Franklin.
"All the things that made me the musician that I am are derived from the south," Hartnett says. "Southern Comfort embodies my style and music in words."
Hartnett on the album is a skilled band made up of the cream of the
trombonist's first-call colleagues. Sharing the frontline with him are
several members of "#TeamHornSection," the franchised line-up of crack
horn players (with a branch based in Europe as well) that can deliver
sharp playing and impressive dance moves on demand. Propelling them is a
deeply funky rhythm section featuring keyboardist Ondrej Pevic, bassist Dmitri Gorodetsky, guitarist (and fellow Lake Charles native) James Lewis, and drummer Adam Jackson.
precision of that band is shown off to full effect on a tune like "No
Patience," which Hartnett suggests could also bear the alternate title
"How I Feel About New York." The song's frenetic pace and anxious,
stuttering rhythms capture the metropolis' vigorous energy at its most
alluring, but Hartnett hasn't always found the adjustment from the
friendlier, more laid-back south to be an easy one. He traces that
tension, and the breadth of his journey, throughout Southern Comfort.
Photo Credit: D2LAL Media
"Culturally, it's completely night and
day," Hartnett says of the contrast between his two home cities.
"Everything in Houston is easy and comfortable; there's not much
struggle going on. In New York, you have to fight every second and money
drives everything, but in the south the culture is more about family.
What I like about Brooklyn is the opportunity to be around a bunch of
other young, progressive, cultured black people."
originally picked up the trombone in 6th grade band. Originally
attracted to the clarinet, peer pressure necessitated a switch when he
found himself surrounded by girls in the band room. After making his way
to the more testosterone-heavy low brass section, he quickly
established himself as first chair trombonist, a position he maintained
throughout his school years. Hartnett continued his music studies at
Texas Southern University, where he was a proud member of the renowned
Ocean of Soul marching band. Those days are commemorated in the muscular
"Pump and Drive," whose title refers to one of the band's signature
many of his peers, Hartnett wasn't obsessed with music as a kid. As he
says, "I wasn't a music geek growing up; I was an athlete and kind of a
thug. When my colleagues were 16 they were learning about Miles Davis
and Charlie Parker. I didn't know nothing about that stuff. I knew about
football, I knew about the streets, and I listened to Swishahouse."
the uninitiated, Swishahouse is a North Houston record label dedicated
to the city's "chopped and screwed" hip-hop sound, innovated by DJ Screw
and characterized by slowed-down tempos and skipped beats. Southern Comfort
closes with a sharp turn into screwed music with "Da Crib," featuring
samples from some of Hartnett's favorite songs and vocals by LaChrisha Brown.
"That track is probably not for everybody," Hartnett allows, "but if
you're from Houston you're gonna know what's up when that track come
the flip side of Hartnett's upbringing is his dedication to the church,
which is the source of several compositions. "I Surrender All" opens
the album with some deeply felt testifying on trombone, accompanied only
by organ. The robust grooves of "Thursday Night" were inspired by
Houston's citywide church rehearsal night. "If you're a working musician
in Houston, on Thursday night you're busy," Hartnett laughs.
Sun Light Lake Charles" is named for the church Hartnett attended in
the city of his birth, where he spent his summers growing up. Both it
and "Glory Glory," a compendium of gospel melodies set to a brass band
beat, reflect the second line rhythms of New Orleans. While the Crescent
City is on the opposite side of the state from Lake Charles, Hartnett
didn't have to travel far to glean its influence: both before and
especially after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleanians relocated to
Houston, bringing their brass band culture with them.
you go to Dallas or Austin you're not going to ask for gumbo or
crawfish or étouffée," Hartnett says. "That doesn't exist anywhere in
Texas except Houston. All the things that you know and love as a product
of Louisiana you can get in Houston. That's my comfort zone."
the time he landed his first professional gig in a Houston nightclub,
Hartnett quickly established himself as one of the go-to sidemen for
artists traveling through the city. He carried that reputation with him
when he relocated to New York City in 2010, and has since accompanied
countless R&B, gospel, and hip-hop superstars. "In and Out" shows
off his more soulful side, in the musical sense; in the personal sense,
he bares his soul on "She's in Spain" and "Summer 2011," which movingly
chart his relationship with his now ex-wife.
features an adept band playing a wide range of styles, but Hartnett
wasn't looking to show off his diversity, he insists. "That's always
been my musical preference. I guess it's just in me. We tend to
gravitate toward things that resonate with us, and from gospel and Negro
spirituals to R&B, that music resonates with me. I feed the music
and the music feeds me."