‘Ornithophobia’ – Troyka

Ornithopobia

WITH two studio albums under their collective belt, in addition to 2014’s acclaimed live Troyk-estra big band recording, heteroclite jazz trio Troyka have always sought to use their combined creative genius to create something extraordinary.

As if to illustrate the point, following a resounding Kings Place Festival taster gig a few years ago, a chap in the row behind enthusiastically turned to his wife as the final applause subsided, asking, “What did you think of THAT?!”… only to prompt the deflating reply, as she rose to her feet to exit, “Uh, not MUCH”! Exactly the kind of divided and controversial response (electric guitarist Chris Montague gleefully explained to me later) that they thrive on. For Troyka are not just any old jazz combo, but rather a triumvirate of like-minded wizards who soak up all manner of genres and refashion them into their own unique, experimental sound worlds. For the uninitiated, this can initially be a pretty bumpy ride – but once attuned to the band’s ‘way of things’ (live, absolutely compelling), it’s easy to become engrossed in the heightened technical and creative intelligence on display here.

Recording for the first time on the Naim label, Montague and colleagues – Joshua Blackmore (drums), Kit Downes (keyboards and tuned percussion) – have upped their game still further with a musical outpouring inspired by the guitar man’s Hitchcockian fear of birds – Ornithophobia. And in a move which widens the scope of ‘the three’, they welcome renowned bassist Petter Eldh to add his considerable weight of experience to production/mixing and, for two numbers, composition.

Launching in typically intense character, Arcades crackles to the abrasive guitar/keys perambulations of Montague and Downes, with synthy prog backwash, before relaxing into a pleasingly retro, Keith Emerson-like rock beat. Key to Troyka’s success is the blurring of the scored, manipulated and improvised – and the groove of this opening number almost feels too short (perhaps a live extension is already in the bag!). Life was Transient undulates to an impossible Hammond rhythm, picked at by Montague until irregular synth melodies that Herbie Hancock would be proud of puncture the fluid, pulsating bass-driven momentum. Crunchy title track Ornithophobia thuds to Blackmore’s metallicised percussion, Montague’s rapidity on the fingerboard just extraordinary – and, at every twist and turn, something new arrives to excite the senses.

Magpies (black’n’white hysteria from writer Montague!) hits the trance button with a blistering saturation of sound, Kit Downes’ distorted keyboards reminiscent of National Health’s Dave Stewart – and the overall drive is hugely cinematic (movie editors take note). The concept of the album is realised in Thopter (faux newsreader suggesting the BBC’s Fiona Bruce may have been more convincing), rendering in sound the album art’s storyboard horror of the band transmogrifying into avian counterparts; with urgent, clamouring guitar, keys and drums, it results in another irresistible adventure. And sustained, contrasting miniature, Bamburgh (replete with seagull effects) implies the rugged, dune-swept coastal terrain of Northumberland in serene, Eno-suggested ambience.

Kit Downes’ The General fascinates with a riff which broods, then accelerates, into a wondrously bluesy lead guitar show from Montague (shades of Knopfler?) – and imagine the ’70s prog rock illuminati queuing up to employ Josh Blackmore! Troyka Smash mesmerises briefly with Eldh’s resampled titbits from Troyka’s catalogue until another impressionistic North Eastern landscape, Seahouses (with helicopter rescue overtones), crashes its waves to shore.

Released on 26 January 2015, and launching on 12 February at Rich Mix, London, Ornithophobia is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats. Dates of Troyka’s extensive national and international 2015 tour can be tracked here – New York, are you ready?!……

 

Chris Montague guitars
Joshua Blackmore drums, electronic drums
Kit Downes keyboards, organ, tuned percussion, piano

troyka.co.uk

Illustration/storyboard by Naiel Ibbarola

Naim Jazz Records – naimcd210 (2015)

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‘Pocket Compass’ – Trish Clowes

PocketCompass

THE BELIEF in staying true to oneself, particularly as a creative, improvising musician (hence Pocket Compass), is very much the thread running through this third release from British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes. A journey to California early in 2013, including a meet-up with jazz icon Wayne Shorter, provided considerable inspiration for these latest imaginings and writings, resulting in an adventurous recorded project which reflects “the people who help us stay on the right paths.”

Concluding three years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and recording here in full for the first time with her experienced and intuitive Tangent quintet, Clowes has also chosen to collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra to provide a luxurious weave of timbres and textures across all eight expansive originals.

From the outset, in the first of the three orchestral sessions, Radiation unfurls into a smorgasbord of delights as the quintet dances freely and comfortably with the lush breadth of its larger counterpart; and Clowes’ commanding, lyrical tenor is equalled by the familiar high dexterity of pianist Gwilym Simcock. With the orchestra extemporising from a melodic fragment, there’s a lot going on, yet it melds intriguingly well. Tangent’s Question Mark, written ahead of the Californian trip, introduces a mood of encircling apprehension as soprano sax pirouettes to Chris Montague’s distinctively unpredictable guitar staccato, the whole episode driven by the bass and drum urgency of Calum Gourlay and James Maddren; and Porcupine is expectedly spiky as its pointed rhythms jar against the satisfying amplified ramblings of Montague, whilst Clowes’ almost mocking tenor encourages a rapid swing to rise out of glorious disorder – just perfect.

From Oscar Wilde’s Symphony in Yellow, Trish Clowes interprets his paradoxical impressions of London’s vistas – “like a yellow silken scarf, the thick fog hangs along the quay” – into the most ravishing of quintet pieces, its combination of soft lyricism and light, workaday scurrying tempered by Montague’s sinewy, shadowier moments. Chattering octaves introduce high-spirited Balloon, as Clowes’ soprano and the oboe (fondly labelled ‘jazzboe’) of the BBCCO’s Lauren Weavers spiral upwardly against boisterous quintet action (Maddren as extravagant as ever) and striking, full orchestration with flickers of the late, great Kenny Wheeler.

Heralded by imitation mammal calls, courtesy of saxophone harmonics plus delicately plucked piano strings, the serenity of whale-watching in Big Sur is communicated beautifully in echoic Pfeiffer and the Whales; and in homage to the genius of Wayne Shorter, Wayne’s Waltz dazzles with the improvisatory soprano spark of its dedicatee, Clowes impressively unwavering throughout. To close, a sensitively-balanced Chorale displays the pellucid soloing of Calum Gourlay and Gwilym Simcock; and with luscious orchestral arrangements reminiscent of Claus Ogerman, the leader’s tenor searchings here become increasingly spellbinding.

All the while – as with 2012’s And In the Night-Time She Is There – this album carries the spine-tingling realisation that Trish Clowes is constantly knocking at the door of innovation, needing to pass through to discover further, uncharted avenues. It’s that inquiring edge, along with an innate musicality, that defines this collection of intelligently-crafted, collaborative compositions – a truly compelling addition to the catalogue as well as another indicator of this artist’s undoubtable advancement.

Releasing on 10 November 2014 and available from JazzCDs via Basho Records, the Pocket Compass album launch takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on 18 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014, including work by Guy Barker and Norma Winstone.

 

TANGENT
Trish Clowes
 composer/arranger; tenor and soprano saxophones
Gwilym Simcock piano
Chris Montague electric guitar
Calum Gourlay double bass
James Maddren drums

BBC Concert Orchestra
André de Ridder conductor

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 45-2 (2014)

‘Southern Drawl’ – Monocled Man

MonocledMan

THE NAMES Rory Simmons, Chris Montague and Jon Scott, together as a trio, are all it takes to set the jazz pulse racing. Already prominent in multifarious line-ups and projects, each bring their razor-sharp creativity to this zesty trumpet, electric guitar and drums collaboration.

Monocled Man’s instrumentation may initially appear curious, with no evidence of traditional bass input – but the saturation achieved, due in part to Chris Montague’s signature guitar loop wizardry and Rory Simmons’ intelligent audio editing, offers an absorbing 9-track, 45-minute playlist (all composed by Simmons) which is as full-bodied as it is exciting. Fast becoming a major player on the British scene, Jon Scott delivers both hard-hitting and sensitive drums/percussion which maintain and add lustre to what might be recognised as a grungy New York jazz or jazz/rock soundworld, though a certain Britishness is tangible; and Simmons’ blistering, clear trumpet shines like a beacon – yet, impressively, he never overdominates the collective trio’s offering.

Opening number Southern Drawl fanfares the album’s intent, Montague delivering the crunchiest, Frippertronic-style effects and Simmons blasting a high solo line against Scott’s solid drum framework; the three musicians cohere perfectly, briefly taking a more introverted path before changing up again to full intensity. There’s a touch of John Schofield to Big Wheeze as the trio share intricate, shifting melodics, Montague summoning his Troyka experience to provide the grooving bass end, and Simmons hitting rasping heights usually occupied by such greats as Jon Faddis – classy stuff indeed. The more reserved Scribbles further highlights the band’s connectivity, its motion, repetition and electronics suggesting early hours downtown cityscapes; and Pud Pud finds Simmons’ echoic trumpet dancing effusively to Scott’s relentless metallic rhythms, Montague presenting the most dazzling array of rapid bleeps, scratches and clashing, bent solo lines.

The anticipatory, slightly uneasy momentum of Royalty is heightened by pedalled cluster guitar chords with hallucenogenic cymbals and keyboards; and, in Van Vliet, Simmons’ mournful solo tune pervades the in-cahoots chimes of guitar, electronics and fluttering percussion. Over its seven minutes, Blip finds the trio perhaps at their most cohesive, synths behind the trumpet lead suggesting a brassy ensemble backing and Montague excelling with customary crackling improvisation. Following a brief, reverbed Royalty Reprise, Bullet Nose ends this compelling set with Simmons’ trumpet bristling above the percussive guitar/drum partnership, its irregular rhythms increasingly monopolised to great effect by the drive and dexterity of Jon Scott.

The verve and raw energy of Monocled Man is addictive, especially from a trio (Troyka and Partikel fans are sure to find the rough-hewn vitality here very attractive), and the prospect of live extemporisation is definitely something to look out for (their ‘Jazz in the Round’ performance at The Cockpit Theatre, London, on 20 June 2014, is to be recorded for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz On 3’). Further information, audio samples and purchasing here.


Rory Simmons
trumpet, keyboards, audio editing  rorysimmons.com
Chris Montague guitar  chrismontague.com
Jon Scott drums  jons.co.tt

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4649 (2014)

‘Tower Casa’ – Nick Smart’s Trogon

Trogon

DRIPPING WITH WARMTH, Afro-Cuban rhythms and sprightly melodies, Nick Smart’s Trogon* presents a lively, listenable programme of originals and arrangements, all led by the crisp, agile tone of Smart’s trumpet and flugel.

I’ve been listening to this debut release for some time, its resolute, upbeat spark – both in terms of writing and playing – gradually seeping into my consciousness… and possibly helping to drag me through the final throes of a messy winter! There’s an appealing depth and range to this sextet’s collaborative sound – hardly surprising, given the stature of the personnel. Much-in-demand, versatile electric guitarist Chris Montague reveals his mellower side (away from the punky crackles of Troyka); electric bassist Denny Martinez supplies a fabulously deep, resonant groove to combine well with the sunshine-laden piano of Kishon Khan; and the drums and percussion of Dave Hamblett and Pete Eckford ensure these seven tracks shimmer and glisten with a palpable joy.

Nick Smart is renowned in UK big band circles as player and director (Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann, Troyk-estra), alongside his role as Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, and brings his considerable experience to this vibrant outing. His own title composition, Tower Casa, revels in its obvious Latin flavour, Khan’s characteristic octaves and chords and Eckford’s embellishments colouring Smart’s trumpet improvisations. A particularly buoyant arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s familiar Kind Folk finds guitar and trumpet intertwining with remarkably similar timbre, Montague’s typically fluent chordal and solo extemporisations also impressing. Kishon Khan’s writing adds a considerably funky edge to this recording, bass and percussion clearly savouring the piano rhythm of the tambura-introduced Todi or Not Todi; and Smart’s ebullient, gritty trumpet lead encourages the wiry, playful side of Montague’s nature, the whole number just teeming with light and vivacity.

Traditional tune, Candela, is arranged as a wistful, delightfully-measured flugel ballad; and Stan Sulzmann’s Round the Round It All (sounding quite different to Sulzmann’s sax-led Neon Quartet version) dances excitedly to Smart’s tune, thanks to Dave Hamblett’s and Denny Martinez’s determined pulse, decorated variously by Pete Eckford’s percussive brightness. Everybody Else’s Song (Wheeler/Smart) shuffles amiably, guitar and trumpet again accurately doubling as front line, as well as displaying their individual melodic capabilities. Finally, Kishon teams up with the leader in penning Mo Tilda, an insouciant carnival sundown tune (featuring some great guitar and piano gyrations) which might well party long into the night.

The rich, eclectic and international feel of ‘Tower Casa’ ensures a brisk, accessible forty minutes’ worth of sun-kissed splendour in the company of six accomplished jazz musicians. So… bring on the Summer!

Released in Babel Label’s 20th anniversary year (2014), ‘Tower Casa’ is available here.

*Trogon (as illustrated on the album art) is the national bird of Cuba.


Nick Smart
 trumpet/flugel
Chris Montague guitar
Kishon Khan piano
Denny “Jimmy” Martinez electric bass
Dave Hamblett drum kit
Pete Eckford percussion

Babel Label – BDV13129 (2013)

‘Live at the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival’ – Troyk-estra

Troyk-estra

ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING and progressive trios to emerge in recent years has been Troyka, the members of which have also become key players in a host of other contemporary jazz and jazz/rock projects: Chris Montague (guitar, loops), Kit Downes (organ, keyboards) and Josh Blackmore (drums).

Their most recent album, ‘Moxxy’ (Edition Records, 2012), created a surge of interest for the band’s creative process of responding to an array of musical sources and influences to deliver their unique and heady mix of improvised jazz, rock, funk and electronics. Troyka’s live gigs are like no other, these three masters of their craft intuitively creating a mesmerising, sparky, sensory experience. So, with that same visionary spirit, how about augmenting the trio with the power and depth of a big band? Crazy? Well, what ensued was nothing short of a jazz sensation!

Montague, Downes and Blackmore assembled an 18-piece of brass, reeds, bass and vibes (personnel listed below, including familiar names such as Reuben Fowler, James Allsop and Mike Chillingworth) under the direction of Royal Academy of Music Head of Jazz, Nick Smart, who would bring a very different dimension to their music. To re-visit a sound originally built on a collective understanding between three, and widen its scope to a much larger ensemble, must have been something of a challenge – but the result, hearing it captured from the live setting of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival (originally recorded for BBC Jazz On 3), is both exhilarating and enthralling (and difficult to categorise – though try to imagine a hybrid of Dave Holland, Matthew Herbert and Beats & Pieces plus Keith Emerson, Billy Cobham and Hendrix!).

Anagram antics are plentiful in the titles of some arrangements of existing pieces, so Dropsy changes to Dry Ops, Chaplin becomes Hip Clan, Zebra turns into Braze… but it’s the musical transformations, of course, that amaze, along with specially-written new pieces. Opener Dry Ops confirms straightaway the successful fusion: brass section able to echo the instantly-recognisable technique of Montague’s guitar/effects with similar spike and crackle, as well as combining with the reeds to fashion a tight NYC-sounding orchestration, whilst also allowing space for individual improvisation. The big band scoring of Gain Noon Soon sounds particularly demanding, but this ten-minute number really sparkles, Blackmore just astonishing with the complexity and rapidity of his drumming. Braze is such a fantastic development of the original trio piece, Downes impressing with signature firecracker organ/keyboards and Montague bristling on lead guitar, whilst incisive chordal stabs and mischievous vibes add peppy colour.

Misterioso Elegant Her‘s mournful, bluesy trumpet opening and slide guitar precede an increasingly urgent pace which eventually unfolds into a particularly BIG band sound and a great coda, Downes and Montague rocking (crank up the volume for a superb live feel!). Coley‘s funk-driven groove – led by the Troyka trio, bassist Louis Van Der Westhuizen and Ralph Wyld on vibes – is so gripping, featuring great organ, trombone and tenor soloing. The spacial Hip Clan – a ‘Moxxy’ favourite featuring Chris Montague’s atmospheric Floydian guitar lead – takes on a different timbre as sustained brass and reeds, with vibes, seemingly float it beyond the clouds. Finally, the cryptically-titled 80 Neon Births teases with big band swing, only to develop into an enveloping electronic haze against Blackmore’s percussive power before a blazing, full-on finale.

Those present at Cheltenham’s Parabola hailed Troyk-estra’s performance as “unforgettable”, “stupendous”, “jaw-droppingly amazing” – and, with this closely-recorded and remixed live account, we now have the opportunity to enjoy much of that magic for ourselves. Launching at London Jazz Festival on 23 November 2013 (Purcell Room, Southbank Centre at 3pm), with a general release date of 2 December 2013, this remarkable debut album is available from Impossible Ark at BandCamp. Prepare to be dazzled!


Chris Montague
guitar, loops  chrismontague.com
Kit Downes organ, keyboards  kitdownes.com
Josh Blackmore drums  joshuablackmore.com

Nick Smart conductor
Reuben Fowler trumpet
Alex Bonney trumpet
Noel Langley trumpet
Imogen Hancock trumpet
Kieran Stickle McLeod trombone
Patrick Hayes trombone
Tom Green trombone
Courtney Brown bass trombone
Mike Chillingworth alto saxophone
Nadim Teimoori alto saxophone
Sam Miles tenor saxophone
James Allsop tenor saxophone
Sam Rapley bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Louis Van Der Westhuizen bass
Ralph Wyld vibes

Troyk-estra

Impossible Ark Records (2013)