TROKER LEFT HOME TO TRULY MAKE IT IN MEX­ICO

The Georgia Straight - - Music -

Af­ter a rough start at home in 2

Guadala­jara, where au­di­ences had zero idea what to make of the band, Troker has grad­u­ally es­tab­lished it­self as one of Mex­ico’s most lauded mu­si­cal ex­ports. Four ad­ven­tur­ous al­bums into a ca­reer that started in 2004, the six-piece has won raves around the world, wow­ing Glas­ton­bury, shar­ing stages with in­die icons like Beirut, and per­form­ing in pres­ti­gious show­cases like NPR’S ex­cel­lent Tiny Desk con­cert se­ries.

Not bad for a group that, in the early years, fielded con­fused ques­tions af­ter live per­for­mances.

“The hard part, in the be­gin­ning, was that we failed in Mex­ico,” says Troker bassist Samo Gon­za­lez, speak­ing through a trans­la­tor when reached in Guadala­jara. “Ev­ery­one kept ask­ing us, ‘Where is your vo­cal­ist?’ They come up ques­tion­ing why there was no singer in the band. Fes­ti­vals would tell us, ‘Sorry, we don’t book in­stru­men­tal bands.’”

“In­stru­men­tal jazz” is a la­bel that to­day doesn’t be­gin to do Troker jus­tice. (Ev­i­dently aware of that, the band has its own con­sid­er­ably more evoca­tive sum­ma­tion: “If Sal­vador Dali ever made a heist movie, then Mex­ico’s Troker would have been the sound­track.”)

The group was founded when Frankie Mares and Gon­za­lez de­cided get­ting out and play­ing mu­sic was prefer­able to study­ing it at the clas­si­cal-ori­ented Con­ser­va­to­rio de Las Rosas in Mex­ico.

“When I was 13 I was in a tra­di­tional Mex­i­can band in my home­town,” Gon­za­lez says. “That con­vinced me that I wanted to ded­i­cate my life to mu­sic. So I knew that I needed to study, and the clos­est place to do that was the con­ser­va­tory of mu­sic in More­lia. So I went there, but found out that it was com­pletely spe­cial­ized in clas­si­cal mu­sic, which was not my goal as a mu­si­cian.”

So Gon­za­lez dropped out and did time in a rock ’n’ roll band for a while. His world changed when he dis­cov­ered New York im­prov un­der­dogs Sex Mob, and then Com­bus­ti­ca­tion—medeski Martin & Wood’s groove-heavy col­lab­o­ra­tion with DJ Logic. Grunge-era odd­balls Mor­phine and jazz gi­ant Charles Min­gus would also re­shape how he and Mares thought about mu­sic.

Record­ings even­tu­ally fol­lowed. Troker’s 2007 de­but, Jazz Vinil, played out like a late-’90s Ninja Tune of­fer­ing, Mares and Gon­za­lez— along with DJ Son­icko—serv­ing up a down­tempo strain of ur­bane-cool jazz made for chill-out rooms. Things have got pro­gres­sively more ad­ven­tur­ous and thrillingly chaotic since then. Crimen Sonoro (2014) de­liv­ered a dizzy­ing rush of woozy mari­achi, depth-charge house, pimp­tas­tic soul, and fre­netic free jazz.

Af­ter years of pro­vid­ing live ac­com­pa­ni­ment at screen­ings of the 1919 Mex­i­can silent movie El Au­tomóvil Gris, Troker cap­tured its work in the stu­dio for the 2016 sound­track 1919 Música Para Cine. From the open­ing drum roll and snake-charmer horns of “1919” to the sepia-toned sax and tidal washes that fin­ish things off in “Fusi­la­dos a Su Nat­u­ral Hor­ror”, Troker cre­ates the kind of jour­ney per­fect for mak­ing vin­tage black-and­white movies in your mind.

The early chal­lenge for Troker was find­ing a place that would book the band. That’s no longer a prob­lem for the band, which has dis­cov­ered that some­times the best way to make it in your home coun­try is to build your ca­reer abroad.

“When we started out, there were no venues, but there was a jazz scene,” Gon­za­lez says. “That started in the ’60s, mostly in Mex­ico City and Guadala­jara. Troker had to find ways to play live. We started con­vinc­ing own­ers of restau­rants and bars to open up space for live mu­sic. Those places are still do­ing live mu­sic. There’s a live scene for jazz again like in the ’60s—the bands have venues and an au­di­ence. Be­cause of that, fes­ti­vals are book­ing the bands. All we had to do was prove our mu­sic had value out­side of Mex­ico.” > MIKE USINGER

The Chutz­pah Fes­ti­val presents Troker at the Rick­shaw Theatre on Satur­day (Fe­bru­ary 17).

Fast-work­ing Jay Som adds pol­ish to in­die pop

At eight years old, Jay Som— 2

or Melina Duterte, to her fam­ily—had bet­ter taste in mu­sic than most adults.

“I started se­ri­ously lis­ten­ing to songs when I was re­ally young,” she tells the Straight on the line from her Los An­ge­les home. “I liked a lot of tracks by Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Don­nas. I ex­pressed a lot of in­ter­est in play­ing gui­tar to my mom, and even­tu­ally she got me an acous­tic for my birth­day.”

The gui­tar would be the first in­stru­ment Duterte mas­tered. Next came the trum­pet, bass, key­boards, drums, and vo­cals—and a pen­chant for song­writ­ing. Pen­ning her first tracks at the ten­der age of 12, the young­ster made mu­sic through­out her teens as a way to deal with the angst of high school. Soon af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she cre­ated Turn Into, a nine-track col­lec­tion recorded in her bed­room that would put her on the radar of cult in­die la­bel Polyvinyl Records.

“Be­fore I made that mix tape, I would write just for my­self,” she says. “In­stead of put­ting it out into the world on Band­camp or Sound­cloud, I was just send­ing the songs to friends—it was a very per­sonal thing be­tween a small cir­cle. I up­loaded what would be Turn Into on a whim— it was just meant to be a set of demos. Now I’ve had to be­come much more aware of my au­di­ence.”

Ink­ing a deal with Polyvinyl in 2016, the artist set off on a coast-to­coast tour for seven months be­fore set­tling down to cre­ate her first of­fi­cial al­bum, Ev­ery­body Works. It took her just three weeks to com­plete.

“I’ve al­ways writ­ten all the parts my­self,” she says. “I think that’s my safe place—be­ing on my own and be­ing able to call the shots and make de­ci­sions, and ul­ti­mately trust­ing my gut. I need an out­let to ex­press my­self. I def­i­nitely find it hard some­times to use my words to ex­plain my emo­tions, whether they’re very sad or happy.

“I’m re­ally proud of how fast I worked,” she con­tin­ues. “Not in an ‘Oh, I did it so quickly’ kind of way. But last week I had the chance to lis­ten through the full al­bum, and I thought, ‘Damn—i can’t be­lieve I did all of that

in just a few weeks.’ I didn’t have any hu­man in­ter­ac­tion dur­ing that time. I was only drink­ing cof­fee. My sched­ule was all over the place. I was writ­ing songs and feel­ing like a mad sci­en­tist. It’s ex­cit­ing to me that I was able to cre­ate, record, pro­duce, mix, and track all of it in that span of time.”

She’s not the only per­son im­pressed with the record. Chart­ing in mul­ti­ple Top 50 year-end lists for 2017, Duterte gained nods from the likes of Rolling Stone, Bill­board, and Pitch­fork with her sleek in­die pop. It’s easy to see why. Gone are the rough edges of Turn Into, with the artist trad­ing in her lofi aes­thetic for bouncy, Yo La Tengo– in­spired tracks like “One More Time, Please” and “Bay­bee”. Heav­ier num­bers like grunge-fu­elled “Take It” and “1 Bil­lion Dogs” sport high-qual­ity pro­duc­tion with­out los­ing their en­dear­ing DIY feel.

“There was a pretty big buf­fer be­tween Turn Into and Ev­ery­body Works,” she says. “On the first record, I was a 19-year-old kid who wrote about be­ing an­gry and sad. That one was my emo al­bum. Ev­ery­body Works is a more re­al­ized ef­fort. I took a more tra­di­tional ap­proach, and my play­ing is much sharper. Most of my ideas and tracks now are get­ting more co­he­sive, and they sound a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. It’s nat­u­ral for things to change, and I feel like I’m pro­gress­ing.”

> KATE WIL­SON

Jay Som plays the Bilt­more Cabaret on Fri­day (Fe­bru­ary 16). Like all the best drum­mers, Dave King seems an­i­mated by an in­ner spark—but while a lot of his peers save their in­spi­ra­tion for the sticks and skids, his finds ex­pres­sion in many cu­ri­ous ways. Not only does he play with jazz in­no­va­tors the Bad Plus, he’s part of five other bands, in­clud­ing two of his own, the ex­tro­verted, sax-heavy Dave King Truck­ing Com­pany and the some­what more tra­di­tional, pi­anobased Dave King Trio. On top of that, he’s a ra­dio host, with a weekly show on Min­nesota Public Ra­dio, and a Youtube star, pri­mar­ily for the wildly funny “in­struc­tional videos” he is­sues un­der the Ra­tio­nal Funk ban­ner. (Should you ever find your­self au­di­tion­ing for Lady Gaga, make sure to check out Episode 21 first.)

Just where, your sloth­ful scribe wants to know, does he find the en­ergy?

For once, King seems mo­men­tar­ily fazed. On the line from the Bad Plus bus, some­where on the snowy roads be­tween In­di­anapo­lis and Cincin­nati, there’s an au­di­ble pause as he con­tem­plates his essence.

“I think it’s just more the pur­suit of a life of cre­ativ­ity. How about that?” he says, fi­nally. “That’s re­ally all I can do!”

Van­cou­verites—some of whom might have been lucky enough to catch the Truck­ing Com­pany at an ill-ad­ver­tised gig last fall—will have two more op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­joy King’s take on mu­sic and the world this week­end, with the drum­mer pre­sent­ing his trio as well as host­ing an ad­mis­sion-free Ra­tio­nal Funk Live work­shop the af­ter­noon of his Frankie’s Jazz Club show.

The lat­ter, he says, will be rel­a­tively straight­for­ward com­pared with the high jinks and sight gags of the video ver­sion. “I do a lot of work­shops, and they typ­i­cally are a lot more rea­son­able than Ra­tio­nal Funk was,” King ex­plains. “I mean, I typ­i­cally will just play a bit and talk about im­pro­vis­ing and take ques­tions. They’re much more framed in that sort of ed­u­ca­tional back­ground. But I do like talk­ing about the mu­sic, and I pre­fer talk­ing about things in a way that de­mys­ti­fies them. That’s what I al­ways liked when I went to mas­ter classes as a young mu­si­cian: when it was less about some­body solo­ing, and more about what they were think­ing about—how we all can dis­cuss mind­sets and dif­fer­ent con­cep­tual spa­ces and how to un­lock your­self from dif­fer­ent things you’re locked into. So when I do a mas­ter class, I try to get a di­a­logue go­ing about ways you can en­hance your way of hear­ing—and, from there, your way of play­ing.”

The con­cep­tual frame­work be­hind the Dave King Trio is not only sim­ple, but clas­sic: take three bril­liant mu­si­cians and set them loose on age­less tunes by jazz com­posers like Th­elo­nious Monk and song­writ­ing greats like Cole Porter. “A lot of it is the idea of reimag­in­ing and re­con­struct­ing jazz stan­dards, some more ob­scure than oth­ers—and hav­ing peo­ple that can play with the kind of elas­tic­ity and spon­tane­ity that reimag­in­ing the stan­dard ma­te­rial fits,” King says. “You need a cer­tain skill set to do that—and with my trio, all of us come from this back­ground of learn­ing the mu­sic through sort of tra­di­tional means.”

> ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Dave King Trio plays Frankie’s Jazz Club on Sun­day (Fe­bru­ary 18). King presents his Ra­tio­nal Funk Live work­shop at the same venue at 3 p.m.

The last time yours truly in­ter­viewed 2 Amer­i­can blues-rocker Tins­ley El­lis was 10 years ago, when he called the Ge­or­gia Straight in ad­vance of a gig at the Yale Ho­tel, Van­cou­ver’s top blues venue for decades. Sadly, the Granville Street joint hasn’t been a real home of the blues for years now, a fact not lost on El­lis.

“Aw, we miss the Yale,” he says, on the line from his home in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia. “I ac­tu­ally played [Van­cou­ver] a few times since then in dif­fer­ent places, and when­ever we play it’s al­most a re­union of peo­ple that used to come and see me at the Yale. We have been for­tu­nate to have moved up to where we’re play­ing more the­atres, but the shows be­come some­what of a re­union for places that are no longer there.”

El­lis—who re­leased his de­but al­bum, Ge­or­gia Blue, 30 years ago—is tour­ing be­hind a new disc called Win­ning Hand that show­cases his smokin’ hot gui­tar­work and im­pres­sive songcraft. The only tune he didn’t write on the 10-track disc is “Dixie Lul­laby”, a song from Leon Rus­sell’s self-ti­tled de­but of 1970.

“I wanted to do a Leon Rus­sell song ’cause we lost him a year or two ago,” ex­plains El­lis, “and he was my big­gest song­writ­ing in­flu­ence. He had pro­duced al­bums by peo­ple like Fred­die King and Jimmy Rogers, so we did it in the tra­di­tion of the Fred­die King al­bums that he pro­duced.”

Since turn­ing pro in 1977, El­lis has wowed blues fans far and wide with his in­tense six-string skills, lead­ing Rolling Stone mag­a­zine to pro­claim that “he achieves py­rotech­nics that ri­val early Jeff Beck and Eric Clap­ton.” And speak­ing of Clap­ton, that’s the name that im­me­di­ately pops up when El­lis is asked which guitarist he’d most like to jam with, if he could choose any­one in the world.

“He’s an old favourite of mine,” says the 60-year-old picker. “I got on­board with him—and I’m sure you did too— when Cream came out. They were just so great. And through that I got into Derek and the Domi­nos, and his solo stuff. So I was such a big Eric Clap­ton and such a big All­man Brothers fan, I fig­ured that if I wanted to get that sound, I bet­ter get their pro­ducer. So we were able to have Tom Dowd pro­duce one of my al­bums.”

Leg­endary knob-twid­dler Dowd— a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in­ductee noted for his work with ev­ery­one from the All­man Brothers to Otis Red­ding to Aretha Franklin—pro­duced El­lis’s 1997 Fire It Up al­bum, one of the blues­man’s top sell­ers.

“He would talk about Derek and the Domi­nos,” re­calls El­lis, “and he’d talk about the All­man Brothers, and he’d talk about Cream, and he’d talk about Aretha Franklin. I’d lis­ten to him tell so many sto­ries we had a hard time get­ting to the al­bum ’cause he was so full of sto­ries.”

> STEVE NEW­TON

Tins­ley El­lis plays the Rio Theatre on Sun­day (Fe­bru­ary 18).

Troker no longer has to an­swer ques­tions about hav­ing no singer.

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