Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Band Review: A Troop of Echoes

The very notion of a soprano sax as lead voice instantly gives A Troop of Echoes some distinction. The musical result gives them even more. Existing somewhere in the land between jazz and ‘prog’ rock, this band manages to create rock music with a high amount of melodic development and a very ‘in the pocket’ type groove, which adds propulsive energy to their music.
     Emerging from a basement in North Kingston sometime in 2005, they are on a mission to write the best songs they can, record them, and go play them loudly in public. On all three counts they acquit themselves nicely. While there is a slight drop in energy on the recordings, their ability to translate the music in recorded form is evident.
      This music presents a very interesting hybrid. Listing Battles, Sonic Youth and John Coltrane as influences gives some indication of things. They also possess a lyrical quality, imparted somewhat by the inclusion of a soprano saxophone in the instrumentation, but also seeming to grow from the perceptions of all involved. There is an obvious emphasis on songcraft in the writing. Given that this is a group of musicians who have been honing their skills for a number of years, this isn’t surprising.
     The fifth track off their bandcamp page, ‘Little Bird’, is a great example of what they’re capable of. The tempo is fairly up, and the rhythmic interaction of the drums, bass, guitar and keyboards creates a churning quality, especially due to the influence of Dan Moriarty’s syncopated accents. Peter Gilli unwinds a melodic line on soprano, and then drops out as the band plays some connecting passages, which lead back to a restatement of the melody with varied feel in the rhythm section; the increase in dynamic intensity is noticeable the second time around. At the end of the song, everything dies out in an electronically treated squall. The music abruptly seizes up, and fades off into the distance.
      The bands musicianship is impeccable, and the sense of ensemble is tight. This fact is reinforced by the next track, ‘Analog Astronaut’. The sectional feel of the tune coupled with the melodic development creates a compelling statement. By the time this track unfolds, the bands ability to work as a coherent unit is pronounced. The sense of formal development permeates everyone’s playing. Though performing as instrumentalists, they come to the task with a highly compositional bent. The Bad Plus is called to mind here, as well as the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Though not nearly as abstract as these bands, the same feeling of ‘composition in action’ transpires throughout. From this point of view, their effort could be considered of a similar type as that undertaken by a symphony orchestra.
      A Troop of Echoes manages to stay relevant while remaining completely distinct from the main lines of musical interest in the Providence scene. Anyone looking for rock music with a sense of compositional development should seek them out.

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