Live at Cheltenham 13 Jazz Festival (Impossible Ark Records)
Released November 24, 2013
Strap yourselves in as UK jazz powerhouse Troyka combine with an incredible big band under the direction of Nick Smart to form Troykestra. The result is a compelling expansion of the trio’s music from their first two albums. Expect textural guitar loops, abstract electronica, dance derived beats, and big band brass.
The band originally formed as part of a commission from Jazzwise magazine to perform for their Birthday Gig at Ronnie Scott’s in London (the “Power of 15” festival). They then went on to perform at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013, where this extraordinary live album was recorded. The album includes existing Troyka pieces rearranged for the big band (and now given new titles) as well as some new pieces specifically commissioned for Cheltenham Festival.
This music continues Troyka’s celebrated unpredictable rhythms and sudden bursts of volume, whilst also further developing other facets of their music. Improvisation is a prominent feature here, with many fluent and articulate solos from members of the larger ensemble. The big band also provides a great opportunity for thicker textures, dramatic horn stabs and expanded harmony.
1. Dry Ops (Live) 9:33
2. Gain Nothing Soon (Live) 10:24
3. Braze (Live) 6:35
4. Elegant Her (Live) 9:14
5. Coley (Live) 7:23
6. Hip Clan (Live) 6:42
7. 80 Neon Births (Live) 7:23
Chris Montague: guitar
Kit Downes: organ, keyboards
Joshua Blackmore: drums
Nick Smart: conductor
Reuben Fowler: trumpet
Alex Bonney: trumpet
Noel Langey: trumpet (lead)
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 sax
Louis Van Der Westhuizen: bass
Ralph Wyld: vibes
Recorded by the BBC
Mixed by Alex Killpartrick
Produced by Troyka
trio Troyka have made significant and idiosyncratic progress with
each successive release since their eponymous debut [Edition 2009] and its
classic follow up Moxxy [Edition 2012] which added angular post punk
guitar shapes to the signature mix of impressionistic keyboard, heavy guitar
and prog influenced time changes. Great though both those sets were, nothing
therein quite prepares the listener for the inspired madness of translating
them to the trio’s alter ego, the orchestral behemoth Troyk-estra at the May
2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
The concert was broadcast by the BBC’s ‘Jazz on 3’ programme whose exemplary support for live music, coupled with the infectious enthusiasm of regular host Jez Nelson, have given many jazz/improv artists a national outlet for their music that is particularly valuable in these times of economic austerity. UK jazz fans will also know that BBC involvement means the underlying quality of this live recording will also be first rate, and the mastering from Impossible Ark records capitalises on this further opening up the music now freed from the compression requirements of modern digital and internet radio.
And what music it is—five of the seven tracks are reworked from the two studio albums, their names playfully concealed in anagrams of the original titles (eg “Noonian Soong” becomes “Gain Noon Soon,” “Dropsy” and “Chaplain” become “Dry Ops” and “Hip Clan” respectively). The addition of the orchestra has a galvanising effect, adding power and space to the original compositions—so “Braze” (Moxxy’s “Zebra”) gains in swagger and dynamic breadth what it loses from the power chords of the original. It all feels incredibly well balanced though—whereas in the original versions the smaller setting meant that one musical element would almost inevitably predominate, here the large ensemble acts as a counterweight, accenting different elements of the compositions. For example the way that the keyboard underpinning on “Gain Noon Soon” is balanced by orchestral warmth, power and extraordinarily tight changes in tempo from the large ensemble gives it a more whole, expansive, feel that is completely exhilarating.
Better still are the two pieces that did not appear on the studio collections. Personal favourite “Coley” is led by a deft, bright, horn riff that fairly zips along. “Elegant Her,” which the BBC did not originally broadcast, starts off like Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly” before building to a swampy climax that sounds like it may have completed the original show. Both of these tracks hint at more to come from this ensemble, and it would be fascinating to hear what they might do given time and a good quality studio.
Ultimately it is this talent for the unexpected which makes Troyka, in whatever guise, so precious. That they could pull off a move as audacious as this so convincingly augurs well for the scheduled gigs in early 2014 and clearly makes them ones to watch in British jazz in 2014.
Phil Barnes (All About Jazz)