Troy Roberts Explores Intense Overdubbing

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Troy Roberts played multiple instruments on his latest album of original compositions, Stuff I Heard.

(Photo: ©Philip S. Avello Photography)

Since relocating to New York in 2012, Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts’ edgy, articulate tone and commanding chops have landed him work with the likes of Jeff “Tain” Watts, Robby Ameen and Joey DeFrancesco.

His recent acoustic leader dates all were done in conventional fashion with a group going into the studio and recording live. But for Stuff I Heard, Roberts took a completely different route, doubling bass parts (electric and upright) and creating rich, overdubbed saxophone sections before calling drummer Jimmy Macbride in to lay down drum parts alongside his own live solos. “It’s a whole new world for me,” said the Perth native and current Harlem resident. “I’m used to doing everything live with a band after rehearsing. This is completely against all my preconceived norms.”

“It’s a little unorthodox,” Macbride said in a separate interview, referring to Roberts’ process. “But I think when you listen to it, you wouldn’t be able to tell. It doesn’t sound ‘Frankensteined’ together or anything. Troy sent me the demos, but we didn’t rehearse anything. Then I went into the studio, and as I was recording I was hearing this stuff for real for the first time. And that made for a very fresh, in-the-moment experience.”

Opener “Little Room” is an exercise in counterpoint that floats on a rhythm Roberts learned from his longtime collaborator, Venezuelan pianist Silvano Monasterios. “It’s my take on a joropo rhythm, but written in a kind of hypothetical fashion as if Bach were to go to Venezuela,” Roberts said. The menacing “Harry Brown,” his tribute to the Michael Caine character from the 2009 movie of the same name, showcases a particularly intense and remarkably facile tenor solo.

The urgent “Rejekt” features funky electric bass and tight Brecker Brothers-ish orchestration for seven swaggering horns. “I actually wrote that horn arrangement for a middle section of Joey DeFrancesco’s tune ‘Awake And Blissed’ from [the organist’s 2019 CD] In The Key Of The Universe,” Roberts said. “But the track was too long and it had to be cut. I thought it would have been a shame to waste all that arranging work, so I built another tune around it with a completely different, funky vibe. That’s why it’s called ‘Rejekt’—because it was rejected from Joey’s album but I was determined not to waste it.”

In late March, the saxophonist was faced with adjusting to the harsh reality of the pandemic. He was on a two-week quarantine in an Australian hotel, mandated by the government for all international arrivals. He was waiting to get back home to take care of his elderly parents in Perth. “I’ve had absolutely every tour, gig and residency canceled through the end of June, and everything after that is unofficially on hold,” Roberts wrote in an email. “As with everyone else, the future has become quite scary. ... I’m not actively pursuing online teaching or streaming for two reasons: depression, and I’m also behind the technology ball. But it may be time to start learning the best ways to do that.” DB




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December 2020
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