Troyk-estra review by Mike Collins Purcell Room, EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday 23 November 2013

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What extra do you get with an ‘estra’?  Troyka, the sizzling. electronica orientated trio of Kit Downes on keyboards, Chris Montagu on guitar and loops and Josh Blackmore on drums, who have made such a splash with their blend of rock, jazz and clubby loops and grooves, added the ‘estra’ by collaborating with the Royal Academy of Music’s big band and its conductor Nick Smart, made possible originally by a commission from Jazzwise. This gig launched the CD, a live recording of their 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival performance.


One extra is the impact of stabbing, syncopated riffs from the squeakily tight horn sections, artfully arranged so that the jagged phrases locked and retained the momentum of the quick-fire techno exchanges of the trio. From the off, ‘Rarebit’ began with a looped rocky feel and the force of the big band’s richly voiced chords pinning us to our seats.  ‘Dropsy’ starting with atmospheric washes of sound from the trio developed into a real groover, the brass storming in with joyous declamatory phrases.


The repertoire was mainly the trio material reworked and arranged for this bang up to date big band, although given that this was a CD launch, only two or three of the tunes were from that recording. What is lost in the translation  to a larger ensemble is some of the manoeuvrability of the trio with less scope for pieces to evolve new directions and develop organically in performance.  A gain, alongside that rich palette of sound, is space for some incendiary soloing from the ranks of the sections. Mick Chillingworth on alto and James Alsopp on tenor in particular cut through and produced wild and exciting moments surfing the hubbub of riffs and grooves.  On ‘Chaplin’, a quieter piece, built around an acoustic piano figure and singing guitar lines from Montagu, evoked a more tender emotional solo from Alsopp and a standout moment of the gig.


The extension of Troyka to Troykestra provides for plenty of excitement and energy with more to come. The set closed with new pieces written specifically for the combined band as one of the twenty one commissions celebrating the festival’s twenty one years.  A great pointer towards some of what might be coming in future years.


– Mike Collins