Tormi, a four-piece band made up of drums, bass, guitar and trumpet, make their genre their own, combining jazz, indie rock and art experimentation into tight, succinct tunes with a clear identity in their many stylistic forays.
Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Molly Buchanan credits much of that to her rhythm section, Rob Cave on bass and Emily Silks on drums. Jenni Long rounds out the group on trumpet, while Buchanan adds saxophone and keyboards to certain tracks.
“I have trust in them that whatever decision they make will be a good decision,” Buchanan said. “Sometimes for myself I overestimate how prepared I am to go in and come up with stuff on the spot.”
A strong backbone carries the group through their self-titled debut album, “Tormi,” out Aug. 2 via Anything Bagel.
The midtempo indie rock of opener “Body Language” feeds directly into “Dossier,” a tune previously described by this writer as “a film noir theme on downers.” Still applicable to the re-recorded version on this record.
Tormi always keep jazz close at hand: “Perfume,” has touches of Badbadnotgood breakbeat jazz that smoothly glides into an airy chorus. The instrumental “Quarter Form” moves through several sections before settling into a Khraungbin-esque groove right as it fades out.
The genre-bending comes both from the band’s intuition, Buchanan said, as well as some purposeful choices.
“There are definitely songs where I’m like, 'Let’s have this be a spaghetti western jazzy song,'” she said. “The music’s always going to be meandering on the borders of genres.”
It never edges into overwrought free-soloing, however. The album has just six tracks, each clocking in well under 5 minutes.
Tormi recorded with Matt Olson at his studio Attack & Release, which required practice, practice and practice to rein in improvisation, and an assumption of trial and error that the group used while recording their EP “Abstract Orange” in Long and Buchanan’s homes.
“Recording in a studio, especially someone else’s studio, just has a way different feeling about it,” Buchanan said.
There were the usual studio tweaks — Olson’s guitar pedal collection was liberally used throughout the record, along with his Nord Stage 3 keyboard.
And the rhythm section helped keep the group on track, as Buchanan and Long kept their improv spirit going over top. Long’s trumpet lines are usually heavily improvised, Buchanan said, as are the many harmonies on the record.
“(Those) are always fair game,” she said. “There have been songs where we’ve invented a bridge section or a solo section on the spot.”
Buchanan’s lyrics are written mostly stream-of-consciousness, fitting with the jazzy dynamic. The songs on “Tormi” form an impressionistic collection of specific points in time over the last two years or so of Buchanan’s life.
“It seems like a reflection, description or portrait of two sides of me that are feeling really unbalanced,” Buchanan said. “But I feel like I really lay bare …because of the nature of stream of consciousness.”
The band will have to adapt again — this time at the end of the summer as their drummer Silks moves away from Missoula, Buchanan said. She already has some ideas for a replacement, as well as the next focus in the band’s sound.
“I feel like I would like it to move in a direction where there’s less rhythm guitar,” she mused.