Troyka might well be the youngest act to appear in this autumn’s Jazz Steps season, now into the second week of its Thursday night residency at Arnold’s Bonington Theatre. But although the trio were all “Born in the 80s”, to quote one of their track titles, their musical influences stretched back further, most notably to the jazzier end of progressive rock.
Looking at the line up – guitar, organ, drums – you might have expected the odd nod to The Soft Machine, but the rippling fluidity of certain key passages had more in common with other Canterbury acts, such as Caravan or Hatfield and the North. At other times, elements of King Crimson’s heaviness and crunch came to the fore, particularly thanks to guitarist Chris Montague, who could switch in and out of a powerhouse riff in an instant.
These influences were counterbalanced by a jittery, twitchy nerviness, which was all the band’s own. In this respect, drummer Josh Blackmore was a key player, who took delight in breaking rhythms down into fractured abstractions, with a less-is-more approach that let light and space into the arrangements. Meanwhile, working on two organs at once, Kit Downes filled out the sound, adding bass tones and inventive melodic flourishes.
Most of Troyka’s numbers were ambitious, episodic affairs, spanning a wide range of moods and time signatures. At times, the trio would fuse tightly together, in gloriously purposeful passages where every note felt planned in advance. At other times, each player would spin off into uncharted free-form territory, moving forwards more by instinct than design.
Leading the band, Chris Montague demonstrated extraordinary versatility as a guitarist, twisting all manner of fresh sounds from his instrument, then tweaking them further with his effects pedals. There was a strong percussive element to his playing, and a rule-breaking inventiveness which never ceased to fascinate.
Tracks from Moxxy, the band’s newly released second album, sat comfortably alongside the more familiar earlier material. There was also room for a brand new, unrecorded composition, Ornithophobia, inspired by Montague’s lifelong terror of seagulls. This was a frightening track for him to play, we were warned. But as a listening experience, it was – like the entire evening’s performance – nothing but pure pleasure.