‘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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‘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)