by Rob Lester
TROY ROBERTS and TIM JAGO
Toy Robot Music
If you have a fondness for detective work and architecture, as applied to music, a strong new instrumental jazz recording called Best Buddies will be of interest. Reading publicity stating that its nine original compositions are all based on/inspired by chord changes and structures of established melodies, including standards and show tunes, piqued my interest. With two Cole Porter classics (“My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?”) and the evergreens “My Shining Hour” and “Angel Eyes” among the starting points, I’m all ears and taking the bait. Well, that “groundwork” may provide solid building blocks, but they don’t dominate what we hear by jumping out at us. What’s created on top of and surrounding the genesis is prominent and potent at center stage. Saxophonist Troy Roberts and guitarist Tim Jago lead the charge, joined by Karl Florisson on acoustic bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums.
The four players, all natives of Australia (where the recording was made), share creation credit for the briefest of the nine tracks, the “Night in Tunisia”-sparked “Zeena,” while all others were composed solely by either Roberts (five) or Jago (three). Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no text in the physical CD’s package to acknowledge the titles or writers of the forefathers of the selections or even the general concept. That seems wrong to me. Some who blithely buy Best Buddies because they’re fans of these players, but not well versed in older repertoire, may not notice the heavily costumed elephants in the room. But certainly the tracks stand on their own merits.
The playing is sterling, whether in ensemble passages or solo spotlights. There’s variety in tempi and style, allowing for some attractive ballad work and high-energy races, and tracks that allow for some lengthy exploratory meandering that may not be as compelling. This could be a harder sell for the jazz-resistant listener, but those who appreciate the teamwork of insinuating sax lines, nimble guitar runs, and the added muscle of bass and drums will find rewards aplenty.
Some titles have sly references to the ancestries, such as “A New Porpoise” as a nod to “On Green Dolphin Street” and the switcheroo of two words’ initial sounds for the choice of “Chythm Ranges” instead of “Rhythm Changes,” which is the informal title used for many examples over the years for new works and improvisations based on the chord changes for the Gershwin classic “I Got Rhythm.” Those are two of the Jago-written works, but his “best buddy” has his fun mixing and morphing words, too, which you can see when a guy named Troy Roberts names his record label Toy Robot. At its best, Best Buddies can be like the welcome good company of a new acquaintance who might vaguely remind you of an old friend.