Review: Troyk-estra at the Purcell Room (LJF)

(Purcell Room. November 23rd 2013 -LJF. Review by Jon Turney)

Troyk-estra were originally created for the Jazzwise fifteenth birthday celebrations in 2012 at Ronnie Scott's, surrounding the eclectic, electric trio Troyka with a big band of similarly open-minded and agile young players, conducted by Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. The second outing was at the2013 Cheltenham Jazz festival. By all accounts, this latter concert, recorded for broadcast on Radio 3, was too good not to preserve. So here Troy-kestra were for their third ever outing, launching the new CD, remixed from the BBC's sound files of the Cheltenham performance.

And this London show confirms that they have retained most of the trio’s qualities now the tunes are clothed in big band attire. Josh Blackmore’s poundingly precise drumming, Chris Montague’s conspectus of contemporary guitar styles, and Kit Downes, who, on electric keyboards, unleashes an exuberantly funky Mr Hyde in place of the Dr Jekyll you may hear on acoustic piano, all play key roles, and write all the music between them.

What is added? There are more layers – whole lotta ostinati going on much of the time – richer textures, natch, and plenty of sparkling solos from the likes of Reuben Fowler and James Allsopp.

There’s also a good ration of more open moments, in the often dense arrangements, with unusual textures to challenge the sound engineers – who did a great job in this excellent space – and catch the ear. Guitar and vibes blend in a theme statement. Bass clarinet, and vibes again, set up another piece before the whole horn section slams back in.

It’s urgent, absorbing stuff, rarely taking a straightforward route to any musical destination, keeping you on your toes. The wealth of ingredients means new possible influences keep coming to mind, everything from Henry Threadgill to Frank Zappa. Zebra (Braze on the anagramatically playful CD listing) has a fairground ending, jumping-off-the-roundabout, that brings Loose Tubes to mind. Downes’ The General, a new arrangement, begins with Frisellisms on guitar alongside acoustic piano, then gathers impetus in the way the composer loves to do. Chris Montague’s Chaplin has shades of Carla Bley of A Genuine Tong Funeral vintage. Another Montague piece comes across as, well, hard to improve on his own description, “music for robots to make love to”.

And doubtless there were plenty of other traces, and notable moments, that I missed. This is the kind of exuberantly accomplished contemporary jazz where attending closely can make it feel like there is too much to take in. Best just to relax a little more and enjoy the ride. After all, there’s a recording now to allow you tease out the details of what this richly talented lot can do. An invitation which, after this bravura performance, will be hard to resist.

The album – also available on vinyl –can be found on Impossible Ark records
Listen to it/buy it on Bandcamp.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you like them, but after suffering four of their compositions we walked out. I usually like Kit Downes but none of the numbers we heard had any redeeming features. For the most part, it was a succession of a few notes from a few soloists with no vestige of melody or cohesion or sense that the music was going anywhere. Quite frankly we were bored. Each to their own, of course, but this is one band we won't be seeing again in their current incarnation.