Saxophone players aren’t known for being shy or demure, but Troy Roberts takes extroversion to another level. He’s known as a young lion in today’s jazz scene, a musician who really stands out with a bold, passionate style. Every note he plays is a statement, one that stems from who he is and where he’s been. He’s an ambitious sax player, so much so that after ten albums he founded his own jazz label, Toy Robot Music. The first release is this, Days Like These, and future releases will focus on the performers who join him here: Hammond B-3 players Joey DeFrancesco and Emmet Cohen and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.
From glancing at this line-up you’ll realize that this is an organ trio, one of my favorite jazz ensembles. Perhaps that’s why Troy Roberts and his sax are so front and center in this recording–there’s the organ adding texture and bass, and then there’s the percussion, and then there’s that big, brave saxophone. It’s a lean sound, stripped down to the basics so you’ll hear everything that’s going on, and all at once. In addition, these eight tracks all hover around the seven to ten minute mark, so there’s plenty of improvisation, plenty of solos, plenty of chance for everyone to dig deep and explore.
Troy Roberts knows how to encourage everyone to get wild, to let loose, but it’s amazing how the trio never lapses into the realm of free jazz. Roberts’ sax playing revolves around melody and theme, not noise, so he’s always playing those big notes with a modicum of restraint. Both Hammond players get their chance for extended solos, but these sojourns reveal the expressiveness of this wonderful instrument rather than the limitless potential of sound. Perhaps the wild card here is Watts, who is often raucous with his kit. He is fond of big fills and lots of work on the crash cymbals, so much so that you can easily imagine the whole kit shaking and sliding across the stage.
Days Like These has a rough, impromptu feel to it, and that’s because it was recorded at Tedesco Studios in a single day. If you know your jazz, you’ll know that’s when the magic happens, when the true classics are captured. Everyone’s in the moment, locked in. Troy Roberts is obviously a leader who strives for that kind of creativity in the studio. While I don’t think you can call a performer with 11 albums a “young lion” anymore, it is true that Roberts is on the verge of taking it to the next level, of doing something with an organ trio that no one else is doing.