When fans of modern jazz are looking to Mexico, you can bet they're looking to Troker. For more than a dozen years, the band from Guadelajara has been at the forefront of modern Mexican music. They've been gaining more attention abroad in recent years, you'll hear their impressive latest album, Imperfecto, on The New Cool Saturday afternoon on KNKX.
Their music pulls from Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock jazz funk, hip hop rhythms and turntablism, imagined film score soundscapes and an occasional dramatic touch of Mariachi tradition. As the band likes to say, "if Salvador Dali ever made a heist movie, then Mexico's Troker would be the soundtrack."
That's perhaps a better descripton of their 2016 release, aptly titled 1919 Música Para Cine. The songs are built from their experiences as a young band playing live accompaniment for screenings of the 1919 Mexican silent film "El Automóvil Gris," moving from swinging jazz thrill ride excitement to exotic noir to psychedelic romance.
Troker found other early inspiration in the playful jazz stuntmen of Sexmob, groovers Medeski, Martin & Wood, '90s sax-rockers Morphine, and forward-thinking beat maker DJ Logic. All those elements are present on Imperfecto, and the songwriting has reached a new level of maturity.
Troker is a predominantly instrumental band, but they add the soulful vocals of Renee Mooi to their first single, the atmospheric "One Thousand Million Eyes." It's a more pop example of their dramatic, progressive modern jazz sound, and I can imagine this song catching the ears of people who wouldn't consider themselves jazz fans.
But even on the pop side, the horn stabs, turntablism, modern rhythms and the personality of Troker shine through.
Relations being what they are these days between the governments of the U.S. and Mexico, it's no surprise to hear Troker adding some timely political content to Imperfecto.
"Coyote" features samples of presidents Bush II, Obama and Trump all speaking about the dangers of immigration layered over a slow, hip hop beat that transforms into traditional Mariachi horns in waltz time. Then the band returns to the slower, modern rhythm with a soulful vocal refrain from guest singer Freedom Bremner, "Oh, say, can you see/One dream to be free."
Fans of Troker's clever film-score homages will love the cinematic "Ofrenda" and the exotic action movie feeling of "Zafiro."
Songs such as "Nahual" and album-closer "Ofelia" feature slower tempos and acoustic piano to great effect, but have a more through-composed jazz feel than the band's more cinematic efforts.
Album opener "Dynamo" and "Chicano," which you'll hear on The New Cool Saturday afternoon, have that heavy, modern rock, hip-hop-jazz energy that first attracted me when I saw the band at the Vancouver Jazz Festival a few years ago.
Troker is back in Vancouver Sunday night at David Lam Park, for free. That's a tempting excuse to make a run for the border this weekend, especially considering they won't be stopping in the Puget Sound region on this trip.
As for the album (and I did buy the beautiful, limited edition, marbled yellow vinyl version), do yourself a favor and buy a digital version of album. CDs and downloads include a full 10-song collection, while the vinyl has room for only six songs. The record was pressed to play at 45 rpm, which technically provides better sound, but my ears aren't good enough to tell the difference. Still, it's a cool collectible!
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.