by Ian Mann
December 12, 2013
A dynamic recording that all fans of contemporary jazz should hear.
“Live At The 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival”
(Impossible Ark Records)
One of the highlights of my jazz year was the extraordinary performance given by Troykestra at the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, a feat that they successfully reprised later in the year at the London Jazz Festival. The Cheltenham show was recorded by the BBC and later transmitted on Jazz on 3, sounding just as good second time around.
The band were so happy with the Cheltenham performance that they decided to license the tapes from the BBC and issue them as an official live album - and guess what it still sounds great. I was lucky enough to be at both the Cheltenham and London shows and thought that each one was superb. Reviews of both can be found in the festival features elsewhere on this site.
Rather than write a fresh review I have decided to reproduce my original coverage of the Cheltenham event below. Lazy, perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as the journalistic equivalent of sampling or live looping, “Jazz Will Eat Itself”, if you will. What I hope comes across is just how exciting this music was/is and this method also provides a quick way of getting this album into the “recommended” lists. It’s a dynamic recording that all fans of contemporary jazz should hear.
A couple of qualifications, the album running order differs from that of the original concert and the band have had some fun mangling the titles of their own tunes. Hence the unannounced “Dropsy” has become “Dry Ops”, Zebra” has become “Braze”, “The General” has transformed into “Elegant Her” and Chaplin” into “Hip Clan”. Elsewhere “Born In The 80’s” has mutated into “80 Neon Births”, “Noonian” is now “Gain Noon Soon” and Blackmore’s second piece appears as “Coley”. “Rarebit”, which opened both the Cheltenham and London shows appears to have been omitted from the record.
All clear? Then here’s my original thoughts first published on May 10th 2013;
My day began at the Parabola Arts Centre with Troykestra, a large ensemble based around the nucleus of the acclaimed trio Troyka featuring Chris Montague on guitar, Kit Downes on Hammond organ and Joshua Blackmore at the drums. Troykestra was first convened as a one off to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of Jazzwise magazine at a special celebratory event at Ronnie Scott’s. The performance was such a success that Troykestra has continued to make occasional festival appearances with the core trio here augmented by a big band featuring five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, electric bass and, in keeping with the theme of the day, Ralph Wyld on vibes. The ensemble was expertly conducted by Nick Smart, Head of the Jazz Programme at the Royal Academy Of Music.
In the main the material consisted of arrangements from Troyka’s two albums for the Edition record label, their eponymous 2009 début and 2012’s even better “Moxxy”. Skilful arrangements and the sheer power of the big band ensured that these pieces came over even more strongly than they do either on record or at the trio’s increasingly accomplished live shows (I enjoyed a Troyka performance at the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham earlier in the year). It also helped that Downes was playing a proper Hammond organ complete with a Leslie speaker cabinet which allied to the to the massed musical voices of the ensemble made for a big, bad beautiful noise. I suspect that the Hammond had probably been hired for the festival, Downes used it again later in the day with the quartet Barbacana, but whenever I’ve seen him play electric keyboards before it’s been the modern generation of Hammonds such as the XK3.
Troykestra opened with Montague’s tune “Rarebit” which quickly established the big band’s credentials on a tricky chart full of polyrhythmic complexity. Although the interplay between Montague and Downes was at the core of the music, spurred on by Blackmore’s precise but powerful drumming, the big band were still an integral and organic part of the proceedings, fully assimilated into the Troyka sound and far more than just an “add on”. Many of the big band members are still students at the Academy, from where Montague, Downes and Blackmore graduated some time ago and the shared sense of belonging was palpable.
Josh Blackmore’s “Calling” (or was it “Cawley” in homage to his Curios bandleader Tom) featured Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet intro, the first of several inspired solos by Montague and cogent statements from Nadim Temoori on alto and Downes on Hammond plus the funky trombone of Kieran Mcleod and finally Sam Miles on tenor sax.
Downes’ “The General” graduated from an impressionistic opening for the core trio plus trumpet through a soaring slide guitar solo from Montague to embrace a real rock power fuelled by Blackmore’s dynamic drumming. The piece culminated in a playful series of wigged out false endings. Exhilarating stuff.
The next piece (unannounced, but actually Montague’s tune “Dropsy”) began with almost subliminal Hammond before adding the other members of the trio with Blackmore’s delicate brushwork in marked contrast to his more boisterous contributions elsewhere. In true Troykestra fashion the piece gradually gathered momentum throwing in a playful dissonance and incorporating solos from Mike Chillingworth on alto, Noel Langley on trumpet and Montague on guitar.
“Born In The 80’s”, written by Montague and arranged by Downes, concentrated on the core trio and saw Troyka creating an impressive wall of sound of their own with Downes doubling up on Hammond and Nord.
Blackmore’s “Zebra” proved to be one of the strongest items of the set, its catchy hook inspiring strong solos from Montague and Downes with the former displaying his fondness for a chunky riff. Rhythms inspired by rock and electronic music are a vital part of Troyka’s sound and the quality of the arrangements ensured that the big band fitted right in with this aesthetic thereby giving the music an added power and urgency.
“Noonian” (the title a Star Trek reference) began with the ethereal trumpet sounds of Alex Bonney and also contained solos from Downes’ close musical associate James Allsopp on tenor sax, Montague on guitar and Mike Chillingworth on alto sax. We also heard from Ralph Wyld who soloed in four mallet mode above an insistent trombone vamp.
The closing “Chaplin” saw Montague’s soaring Pink Floyd style guitar cushioned by rich, sonorous horn voicings as this inspired set drew to an end.
I was surprised but delighted at just how good the music of Troykestra was. The power and precision of the playing of the Academy guys (and one girl) was hugely impressive and it’s obvious that the UK has a whole new wave of talented young jazz musicians waiting to make their mark. The core trio, relative veterans (Downes is twenty six) just get better and better and all three were in inspired form here. Much of the set rode a wave of turbo charged adrenalin but there were moments of subtlety too. A word of praise for the experienced trumpeter Noel Langley who was drafted into the ensemble at very short notice and acquitted himself brilliantly.
All in all this set was a triumph and those who were not lucky enough to be at the PAC can catch it again when Jez Nelson broadcasts today’s performance on Jazz on 3 on June 3rd 2013. There’s also talk of Troykestra releasing a live album. Should be well worth waiting for.
The full line up was;
Chris Montague Guitar
Kit Downes Keys
Joshua Blackmore Drums
Nick Smart Director
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
Nadim Teimoori Alto
Sam Miles Tenor
James Allsop Tenor
Sam Rapley Bass clarinet, baritone sax
Louis Van Der Westhuizen Bass
Ralph Hero Wyld Vibes
Ian’s star rating; 4 Stars
The London Jazz Festival show was of an equally high standard, the only personnel change being the substitution of Alex Bonney by Freddie Gavita. I must admit that I actually prefer listening to Troykestra rather than to the core Troyka trio. However let’s hope that both the large and small incarnations of the Troyka brand will continue to thrive in the years to come.