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Monthly Archives: February 2013

How do they do that?

From left to right: Joshua Blackmore (drums), Chris Montague (guitar), Kit Downes (organ)

From left to right: Joshua Blackmore (drums), Chris Montague (guitar), Kit Downes (organ)

The current British jazz scene is packed full of excellent groups and musicians – Troyka are one such trio making a stir with their angular, mind-boggling free jazz sounds.

Like most music of its kind, it takes a good few listens to digest, comprehend and remember what it is that you just listened to. By the fourth listen, you are rewarded with a complete picture of some serious songwriting talent. Having all studied music and clearly being virtuosos in their field, there are no boundaries in terms of structure, time signatures, rhythms or instrumental difficulty. The songs represent this, moving in a flash from funky grooves to sparsely notated, ambient sections via a free jazz passage that comes at you from nowhere. The song Cajoch is taken from their self titled 2009 album and epitomises what Troyka are about: try counting the time signature from 0.16 until 0.32; the boppy organ groove at 1.04; the excellent drum work from 1.47 to 2.00; the seamless switch back to the main melody.

The first album is full of fantastic ideas similar to the above. Call is another highlight, with its half-time intro before shifting gears, as is Twelve, Bear and the crushingly heavy slide guitar of Clint.

Moxxy was released in the summer of last year, and sees the trio focusing on the more melodic side of their songwriting. While the first record centred around darker, free jazz pandemonium, the second album offers brighter tones and a much more refined sound. Dropsy, Islands and the groove laden Zebra are particular highlights.

The opening track from Moxxy, Rarebit, is captured here live from Kings Place last year. From a musician’s perspective, it is stunning to see the command and ease each man has with their instrument, especially drummer Joshua Blackmore. Starting properly from 0.16, the tight switch into the song’s main motif at 0.52 with a casual ‘Hey!’ is followed by a shift of tempo at 1.28 and 1.39. The music goes into an all out jam from there until reaching a catchy 7/8 riff at 3.06, which riffs heavily at 3.25.

Troyka are an exciting band, and whilst they have snippets of influences, they hold a unique place on the current scene. I, for one, am very eager to see them live. Their intricate textures might only appeal to a certain sort of crowd, but the impressiveness of their musicianship and distinctive songwriting means that there should be something for everyone.

The best damned thing to come out of Norway since Edvard Grieg, period.

I have a penchant for instrumental music, there is no doubt about it. In recent times, my leaning towards such sounds means it now outweighs the amount of vocal based music I listen to. Is this intrinsically linked to my own inability to sing? Perhaps. Though my undisputed favourite band are The Beatles, some music is just too involved to have someone trilling over the top. One such band is Farmers Market, a collection of Norway’s finest musicians who I had the great pleasure of being introduced to by my friend Barney.

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That’s not to say this musical outfit do not have any vocals. Chanting, country squealing and scat all make an appearance throughout their discography, but that is not the key focus here. Farmers Market are pure, unadulterated fun time music, the kind that makes you jut your neck subconsciously or suddenly inspires you to learn the accordion. The influence of Bulgarian folk music is evident, but the group skip between jazz, rock, classical, gypsy, funk, progressive rock and bluegrass (to name but a few) with blissful ease. Stian Carstensten (accordion and a whole host of other instruments) and Nils-Olav Johansen (guitarist et al) are well-regarded and respected individually, but collectively as Farmers Market they are an almighty force.
So, to back up my rantings, here is the track (Come On Baby Do The) Balkan Boogie from the album Musikk Fra Hybridene. It encapsulates everything that Farmers Market are about: genre swapping, original party music with delicious riffs, different time signatures and instrumental precision in abundance. Only a deaf person would be able to resist grooving to the drop at 1.00 onwards, and the switch of tempo from 3.20 only ups the stakes to borderline ridiculous.

This track, Les Paul More John, is taken from the self titled album. It features an exemplary rhythm section with an infectious guitar melody using an effect that I can’t quite put my finger on. The title of the track also nods to The Beatles perhaps?!

The album Surfin’ USSR is arguably Farmers Market most well-known and commercially successful record, a complex Bulgarian folk affair with enough song material to keep you scratching your head for the rest of 2013. This song, From Prussia With Love, can be found on the album.

Understandably, this kind of music is not for everyone. Certainly I would not suggest listening to Surfin’ USSR all in one go, the Bulgarian passages can be a little overbearing at times. But, I love this band and there are many, many excellent tunes to be heard. And for keen instrumental music lovers, this is pure gold.

Latest album Slav To The Rhythm was released in 2012 and is the most accessible and polished record of theirs to date, the songwriting taking a more progressive and straight rock orientated approach. It also boasts additional instruments, such as the synth, clarinet and French horns. Machine Rules is a great example, in what can only be termed as progressive disco at 1.38 with turbo violins kicking into a tight groove partnered with string and guitar stabs. One of the dirtiest drum and bass breaks I have heard in a while lands at 2.17, grooving to a 5/4 beat as far as I can tell (please do correct me if I am wrong!). It settles into a twisting sitar/violin/harp sound scape from there.

All in all, Farmers Market are in a crazy league of their own. I thought Estradasphere ruled the roost, but now I’m not so sure………….

I’ll sign off with the band accompanied by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra on the song Some Fag Rag, a personal favourite no-nonsense ragtime ditty. Enjoy!

2 Foot Yard – Borrowed Arms

This is perfect Sunday morning music, especially when one is nursing a mild but niggling hangover.

2FootYard
 

With a minimalist folky sound, this trio provides beautiful vocals and plucky instrumentation through a stripped down production. The title track gracefully sways, offering interesting vocal harmonies during the chorus, a sliding jazz bass and surprisingly beefy drums.

For me, the album as a whole has its hits and misses. Tracks such as Plane Song and Hold My Own meander along with no real purpose, but fortunately other songs sufficiently make up for the filler. Such highlights include Chapter IV and Drizzle, a sparse yet rhythmically intriguing tune that descends into a wild, jazzy groove at 1.36, before returning to the droning violins and ethereal vocals. The gaps at 3.13 and 3.21 are particularly nice!

Start the Blog Right

So……..my first blog. The intention of this page is to simply share my findings in what has become a staple of my being: the perpetual need to hunt down new tunes that please my ears.

This is not an elitist, snobby blog where I brag about how I delved into the deepest jungles of Africa and discovered a band who play world industrial death funk using clay jugs and empty Castrol cans with bamboo strings. Nor is it a highly analytical and critical review of what makes music work. It is merely the sounds I have come across and my thoughts towards them.

There is no greater feeling than unearthing something brilliant and new, playing it over and over again, appreciating it more with every listen, and then sharing it with another person who takes equal pleasure from it.

To begin with: Field Music.

Field-Music-Plumb

I had previously considered Roller Trio to be the most exciting band on the Mercury Prize list last year, but having now listened to Field Music’s latest album Plumb, my mind has well and truly been changed. How these two multi-talented musicians from Sunderland have escaped my attention for so long confounds me…..since hearing this album, I have purchased their entire discography.

Plumb itself is a fine example of bitesize songwriting, perfectly crafted melodic gems with intricate instrumentation to boot. One BBC review I read hit the nail on the head in describing it as an album written in the style of an Abbey Road medley, and with such a compliment, you get the idea of the unique songwriting style Field Music have. Infectious vocal harmonies with a hint of arty math pop, Plumb is a triumph for British music. Or for Sunderland at least.

Highlights of the album include the opening track Start the Day Right with its Led Zep inspired riff, the Beatles-esque Sorry Again, Mate and this number Who’ll Pay The Bills?:

Going further back into the catalogue, Let’s Write A Book from the album Measure has a positively Zappa inspired xylophone line from 0.43 (always a bonus in my book). This is arranged over an incessant groove.

There is a large body of work to explore, with repeated ideas few and far between. Other recommended listens would be If Only The Moon Were Up from the album Field Music, and A House Is Not A Home from the album Tones of Town, with its Electric Light Orchestra strings and interesting marching drum pattern.