I’ve seen this type of album cover quite often in the world of contemporary jazz, just a photo of the artist or two, and the simplest of titles that suggest no one cared about the title, everyone just wanted to play. So maybe they name it Everyone Just Wanted to Play and move on to the next thing on the list. So it seemed with Troy Roberts and Tim Jago’s new album, Best Buddies, and I almost set it deep into the review pile until I did a quick double take and say wait. Troy Roberts? That Troy Roberts?
I’ve been following saxophone player Troy Roberts for the last few years, and I’ve reviewed his last few albums as well. Roberts is at the vanguard of contemporary saxophone players because he stills sounds like he’s blazing new trails every time he performs. As soon as I hit play on Best Buddies, as soon as his unique and lyrical phrasing floated out into the room, I knew that this wasn’t just some impromptu gathering between two jazz guys who had a break in their schedules–something far too common in the jazz scene right now thanks to Covid.
That’s why the title Best Buddies is far more meaningful than it seems. Troy Roberts and guitarist Tim Jago were both born and raised in Australia, and they both came to the US to study at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. (They’re joined on this album by two fellow Aussies, drummer Ben Vanderwal and bassist Karl Florisson.) My first thought was, “I hope you brought your A-game, Tim Jago, because your buddy’s on fire.” I quickly realized how stupid that was one I heard this quartet launch into these original compositions (from both Roberts and Jago) and navigate these wild turns with precision. Jago’s fingers catch fire as well, lightning in a bottle.
Best Buddies lives and breathes like one of those great jazz recordings from decades ago–if I walked into a strange room and heard this playing, that’s what I would think it was. I know how awesome Troy Roberts is, and now I know his best buddy Tim is right there at his side, doing the things that best buddies do. My only request is that this foursome stays intact and continues to explore new nooks and crannies within traditional ideas.