Troy Roberts Supplies Hard Swinging Organ Trio Record With ‘Days Like These’ (ALBUM REVIEW)
You could say that saxophonist, bandleader, and Joey DeFrancesco (Joey D.) sideman Troy Roberts is on a roll. He’s been busy but still found the time to issue his eleventh album as a leader, Days Like These. The album also marks a first for Roberts as a label owner, calling his brand Toy Robot Music. Roberts has appeared on the two most recent Joey D albums – Project Freedom (2017) and In the Key of the Universe (2019) as well as the two Joey D.-backed Van Morrison albums The Prophet Speaks and You’re Driving Me Crazy, both from 2018.
As you’d expect from the words “organ trio” in the headline DeFrancesco is part of this lineup, playing his signature B3 on the first three tracks. Pianist/organist Emmet Cohen takes that chair for the last five tracks. Cohen and Roberts played many organ trio gigs “back in our Miami days when he was a student and I was on faculty (University of Miami’s Frost School of Music).” Rounding out the trio format is long-time collaborator, drummer Jeff “Tain’’ Watts with whom Roberts worked with for five years as a member of the Jeff “Tain” Watts Quartet. Roberts recorded three albums with him from 2015 through 2017.
The eight selections are a combination of originals and standards with each trio member given plenty of room to stretch out. Roberts opens with Albert Hague’s “My Girl Is Just Enough Woman for Me.,” one that Stanley Turrentine recorded on numerous occasions. The ten minute tune swings as Roberts blows a beautiful melody and solos with a keen sense of articulation and phrasing. DeFrancesco, of course, acknowledged as one of the best organists anywhere, plays with a flair and rapid fire that few could match. The boiling point recedes to a simmer on the Jerome Kern standard “Why Was I Born” with DeFrancesco this time caressing the melody before Roberts enters with gorgeous note choices and superb tone.
”Trams” is an original and more contemporary in feel. Roberts indicates that the melody is actually the bassline played backwards so the title, in turn, uses clever wordplay in spelling “smart” backwards. This tune also appeared on the Grammy-nominated album, Presence by Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band, which featured Roberts. “The Waltz of Parting Days” is another original constructed around a melancholic melody, a vehicle for Roberts full-bodied, warm tone and his understanding of the traditional and modern sound. It’s the first of five with Cohen on the organ.
There’s a different textural feel with Cohen at the B3, with the accent on chords rather than Joey D.’s machine gun array of notes soloing. “Sly Old Dog” is an original Roberts contrafact based on the harmonic progression of Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me” rendered as an up tempo burner where both Roberts and Cohen (yes, Cohen) deliver a mind-blowing number of notes in their solos. Surprisingly, as the fire threatens to completely explode, Roberts inserts a little bluesy church effect in closing. “Jack the Sipper” is a remake from Roberts’ Nu-Jive Perspective, delivered with a straight-eight treatment. As one might guess, Roberts has this explanation for the image at play here – “The tune sets the scene for a serial alcoholic who emerges in the night, sneaking undetected from bar to bar in a somewhat comical re-imagination of the fabled Jack The Ripper.”
Given Roberts’ previous role as an educator, it’s clear that he understands the nuances and tenderness necessary to play standards. Heck, we’ve even heard it on the Van Morrison albums. Yet, he chooses three relatively obscure ones including his haunting version of the Wayne, Hoffman, and Sigler tune “Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day.” Surely, the closer calls for an up tempo tune, his original, zanily named “Wizard of Ozroop,” which could playfully be a reference to his original homeland of Australia. Here the trio is at its interactive best, each member pushing the next in vigorous swinging solos.
There’s a contagious spontaneity to this session, which was done in just one day. Like much strong jazz, delivered “in the moment.” The combination of the originals and standards gives a balance to the album where Roberts not only displays his talents as a composer but honors his influences Turrentine, Johnny Griffin, and Eddie Harris in a bluesy, soulful, yet contemporary style.