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by Ian Mann

July 16, 2012


Thoroughly contemporary, yet at other times sounding pleasingly retro, Troyka's updating of the organ trio tradition for the 21st Century makes for highly refreshing listening.



(Edition Records EDN 1033)

This London based trio made quite a splash with their eponymous début album released in 2009, also on the Edition label. With Chris Montague on guitar, Kit Downes on organ and Joshua Blackmore at the drums Troyka’s music combined jazz with vintage progressive rock whilst also embracing more recent technical developments, notably Montague’s deployment of looping techniques. That first album was very well received by the critics and the trio also gained a considerable reputation for their exciting live shows, accruing something of a young cult following in the process. The group also formed the basis for Django Bates’ one off octet the TDE’s who performed a suite of specially commissioned music at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, a performance that was subsequently transmitted on Radio 3 and which, for me, was one of that year’s festival highlights. In 2012 the group expanded again to form Troyk-estra, a collaboration with the Royal Academy of Music Big Band which performed at Jazzwise magazine’s fifteenth anniversary celebrations at Ronnie Scott’s. It is hoped that the Troyk-estra project will be an ongoing concern with possible future live appearances. 

With the members of Troyka, and Downes in particular, constantly in demand for other projects it is perhaps no surprise that their second album has been a while in coming. However first impressions are that it’s been well worth the wait, Moxxy is tighter and leaner than its predecessor, the writing and playing more tightly focussed with all three members of the group contributing to the writing process. The album was recorded live in the studio and produced by Robert Harder who has worked with Polar Bear among others. Many of the tracks were first takes and there’s a spontaneous “jam band” feel about the album that is very appealing. Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Wayne Krantz and Medeski, Martin & Wood have all been cited as influences and Downes has also mentioned the more subliminal inspiration of electronic artists such as Aphex Twin. The group have also expanded their sound palette this time round with Downes playing acoustic and electric pianos in addition to his trusty Hammond.

Originally from North East England Montague remains the chief composer for the band. The album kicks off with the intricacies of his composition “Rarebit”, a piece full of mind boggling time signatures, a mix of electric and acoustic sounds from Downes and a bubbling urgency that gives a real excitement to this potentially forbidding math jazz/rock. The interplay between Montague and Downes is fascinating and often brilliant with Blackmore the perfect rhythmic foil. In the second half of the tune Montague cranks up his amp for a thrilling rock influenced solo, followed by some powerful unison riffing prior to a brief but atmospheric coda featuring Montague’s looping techniques.

Credited to Montague and Blackmore “Dropsy” begins with the gentle sound of loops but a walloping odd meter hook and groove quickly emerges that for older listeners like myself brings back memories of the so called “Canterbury” bands-Soft Machine, Egg, Hatfield and The North etc.
Guitar and heavily treated organ jostle for space, the whole thing driven by Blackmore’s busy but perfectly attuned drumming. Montague coaxes more fevered sounds from his guitar as this complex but exciting music continues to enthral.

As suggested by its title Downes’ “Crawler” moves at a slower pace with guitar and organ simmering and brooding atmospherically above Blackmore’s minimalistic drum groove. The piece echoes Downes’ love of early blues forms, his composition “Skip James” on his own album “Quiet Tiger” although sounding very different, comes from similar roots. Here the piece gradually gains momentum giving Montague the chance to stretch out and soar, channelling the sound of the blues guitar heroes of yore through contemporary technology and influences, a turbo charged amalgam of Hendrix and Bill Frisell.

Montague’s “Oedipus” combines pointillist guitar with chunkier riffing to produce a sound that Selwyn Harris, writing in Jazzwise, described as “the missing link between Medeski, Martin & Wood and Talking Heads”. Montague’s solo makes thrilling use of effects and extended techniques above the intermittently threatening rumblings of Downes’ Hammond.

“Rest” by Montague and Blackmore features the latter on brushes on a piece that owes something to the dreamscapes and twisted Americana of Bill Frisell, a musician Montague cites as a key role model, particularly with regard to embracing the concept of simplicity and capturing the essence of a piece of music- as Troyka do so splendidly here. 

Downes’ “Islands” features organ led prog riffs over Blackmore’s relentless drum grooves. Montague’s crystalline guitar lines weave in and out and have been compared to Robert Fripp’s work with King Crimson, not least because of the title, also that of a 1971 KC album although I’d be surprised if Downes was making a direct reference unless it’s an oblique nod to the oft repeated quote that “Troyka are a King Crimson for the iPod generation”. 

Blackmore’s “Zebra” is the most high octane piece on the album being, for the most part, a rousing funk strut fuelled by the composers drums and featuring Montague’s monstrous power chords and Downes’ blazing Hammond. However this being Troyka things aren’t quite that simple, the wigging out is punctuated by a prettier and more subtly complex central section.

The album closes with Montague’s “Chaplin”, a tribute to the silent movie star that concentrates on the pathos rather than the slapstick. The composer’s slide guitar soars above Downe’s simple piano vamp and Blackmore’s atmospheric mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. As other reviewers have commented it sounds inescapably like Pink Floyd and is arguably the most “song like” of this adventurous set of compositions. It’s another example of the way that the group can move effortlessly from the the complex to the simple and yet be utterly convincing at all times.

With “Moxxy” Troyka show clear signs of artistic development, trimming the fat off their music and making every idea count. Aided and abetted by Harder they have achieved a leaner, harder sound that is both visceral and exciting and the album is likely to hold considerable appeal for the trio’s young fan base and beyond. Montague utilises his effects maturely and tastefully and the sound of his loops and pedals positively enhances the music. He remains the dominant player here but the contribution of Downes is nearly as fine as he creates a rich set of textures and interacts superbly with the guitarist. Blackmore’s drums give the band an impressive rhythmic impetus but there’s a subtlety about his playing too, he always seems to find just the right sound or beat for the occasion.

“Moxxy” has received almost unanimous critical approval and once again there seems to be a real buzz about the band. Thoroughly contemporary, yet at other times sounding pleasingly retro, Troyka’s updating of the organ trio tradition for the 21st Century makes for highly refreshing listening.

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