Troyka – Ornithophobia
(Naimcd210. Release 25th January 2015. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
Ornithophobia. Whether – or not – the title contains a sly snub to Charlie Parker’s Ornithology, Troyka’s third album is full of exactly the kind of fast-paced virtuoso instrumentals and harmonic exploration that the modern counterpart of the bebop great couldn’t help but appreciate.
The opener Arcades lurches from a pulsing pensive start into Troyka’s familiar challenging rhythms, supporting guitarist Chris Montague’s atonal Nintendo inspired riffage before dropping back and forth through a rock march and a wailing Hammond before expiring in a tantalising abrupt finish. A similar high-tempo register is reached in Thopter, a Joshua Blackmore penned pandemic zombie narrative, where strutting post-apocalyptic sounds of a screeching Hammond stomp alternates with guitar explorations built on a perma-shifting drum shuffle.
There are certainly other compositions with gusto, and they run through the album – the energetic jarring of Magpies for example – but the mood throughout is tempered with Montague’s more introspective, ambient compositions Bamburgh and Seahorses. Kit Downes’s thoughtful classic The General favours a patient tempo escalation over time signature trickery, with restrained Bill Frisell-esque guitar improvisation cruising over the deep bass underpinning before reaching its triumphant finale.
While The General plumbs Troyka’s traditional instrument array, the brief drum and liquid synth exploration of Troyka Smash shows how the group are keen to embrace new sounds. Indeed, Ornithophobia is the first of their albums to feature compositions by someone outside of the band themselves, Berlin-based Swede Petter Eldh.
Indeed the inclusion of Eldh seems to have paid dividends: his minimal house opening to Life Was Transientis refreshing, the trio’s trademark intensity subtly built into tightly arranged electonica: reliable yet glitchy garage drum-snaps form the coherent backdrop to synth sound experiments warmly reminiscent of the Warp Records back catalogue.
That said, perhaps the strongest expression of the new path Troyka have set is in Ornithophobia, a composition by Montague and the album’s title track. Here they stick with the carefully layered acoustic palette of Squarepusher or Flying Lotus, yet use them to form the rip-roaring moments of deconstructive guitar, organ throb and sparse sharp drumming that they’re acclaimed for.
Ornithophobia is undeniably a true Troyka product – an earthy jazz-rock fusion with all the avant-garde trimmings – but here we see them delving into acoustic mixes deeper than their three-person line-up, and with an ear to the ground of the 1980s Chicago sound. These new nuances are exciting now, and bode fascinatingly well for the future.