Troy Roberts & Tim Jago | Best Buddies Review
by Jeff Becker
Troy Roberts (saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist) and Tim Jago (guitar) are best friends, both musically and in life. The two were born and raised in Australia and have a kinship that carries over into their professional music careers. Roberts is a flourishing band leader with twelve chart-topping albums to his name, two GRAMMY-Nominations, and a semi-finalist in the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. A long-time New York resident, Roberts is an in-demand sideman, performing around Europe and the US extensively with artists such as Joey DeFrancesco, Aretha Franklin, James Morrison, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Van Morrison, Christian McBride, Sammy Figueroa, Billy Hart, Orrin Evans, and Kurt Elling to name a few. Roberts has imparted his knowledge as a professor on faculty at the FROST School of Music and The New School while maintaining a busy performance and recording schedule around the globe.
Jago also has performed and recorded with a host of world-class musicians, including Terence Blanchard, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chick Corea, Gloria Estefan, Wycliffe Gordon, Dave Liebman, Bobby McFerrin, Steve Miller, and Arturo Sandoval, to name a few. A semi-finalist in the inaugural Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition, he has three leader releases with his trio to his name, and is also a member of Troy Roberts’ Nu-Jive group. Jago has served on faculty as a professor at The FROST School of Music and The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Jago balances a busy sideman performance schedule.
Roberts and Jago are joined by two renowned fellow Australians, Ben Vanderwal on drums and bassist Karl Florisson, as they present their co-led album, Best Buddies. The album is nine tracks that effortlessly flow from straight-ahead jazz to the post-bop tradition. This album’s theme is contrafacts (a new melody composed over the existing harmonic structure of various well-known jazz standards), with an underlying aesthetic very much in the post-bop tradition.
“Chythm Ranges” opens the set with the ensemble doing a contrafact on George Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm.” The up-tempo energetic is preceded by an opening statement from Vanderwal. Roberts’ and Jago’s playing of the melody is fluid and in sync. Roberts’ solo is filled with exciting rhythmic playfulness and expressive harmonic/melodic relationships. Jago’s solo is in the pocket and outlines the harmonic structures with musical elegance. Roberts and Jago exchange choruses as the two feed from the energy of the rhythm section. The ensemble is buoyant, and the swing feel conveys the joy in which these buddies perform and interact.
“Halfway House in C Major,” a contrafact based on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love,” opens with Roberts and Jago playing counterpoint. According to Roberts, The title derives from three subjects; 1) the fact that the melody is composed on only half of the form, 2) eludes to Tadd Dameron’s contrafact “Hot House,” and 3) deviating from the standard jazz solo approach, this piece is performed in the classical-baroque style, featuring spontaneous, interactive contrapuntal lines. The interaction is lovely to hear, and if you are a fan of the great Bill Evans and his relationship with Scott LaFaro, you will especially enjoy this current conversation between saxophone and guitar.
Best Buddies is a beautiful collection of melodies through familiar harmonic territory. Roberts remains at the top of the list for creative saxophonist of his generation, and his relationship with Jago makes this album even more special. The ensemble of buddies makes for an energy of ebullient and life-affirming commitment to friendships. This is a brilliantly conceived and executed project by an outstanding group of friends and musicians.