by Ian Mann
December 07, 2006
This may be an album with simple intentions but it's immaculately crafted and great fun.
Q. What’s the difference between a trampoline and a trombone?
A. You take your boots off to jump on a trampoline.
I expect Dennis Rollins has heard them all before. The trombone has been an unfashionable instrument in jazz for years. Despite the best efforts of Curtis Fuller who appeared on many a Blue Note session the instrument was regarded as too lumbering and lugubrious for bebop and has largely been out of favour since the 50’s.
The trumpet and the saxophone have produced legends such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, but the poor old trombone is seen as the poor relation - no trombonist, not even J.J. Johnson, gets close to such iconic status.
So what chance does Dennis Rollins have of making the instrument relevant in the 21st Century? Every chance if this infectious and enjoyable record is anything to go by. Rollins cut his teeth with the legendary Jazz Warriors back in the 80’s. He’s still in demand for session work and as an educator but for some time now Rollins has been leading his own outfit, the fun and funky Badbone & Co. This band combines superb playing with a degree of showmanship and is a guaranteed dance floor filler at jazz festivals with it’s funky, unpretentious, dance orientated music. Although Rollins throws in modern influences like rap, hip hop, soul and blues in many ways he’s taking jazz back to its roots. His trombone is at the heart of this tasty stew and people love it, and not just the hardcore jazz fans.
“Big Night Out!” is actually a concept album despite its dance credentials. It’s a simple idea, to chart the events of a big night out on the town, very possibly Dennis’ base of Doncaster. South Yorkshire meets New Orleans. The album may not tackle serious social issues like recent works by Abram Wilson and Soweto Kinch but it’s none the worse for that.
The opening “Sweet Tone Bone” pays tribute to the early pioneers of jazz trombone, Kid Ory, Miff Mole and “Tricky Sam” Nanton.Its back to the roots but also bang up to date with clever rap style lyrics and vocals by Rollins’ collaborator shortMAN. Needless to say it’s seriously funky. This is one hell of a band.
“Fire In The House” is just as fine incorporating a police siren, funky hip hop beats, Blue Note style horns and slinky guitar from Johnny Heyes. Rollins himself solos on both trombone and keyboards. Great stuff.
“Holier Than..” is a brief bluesy interlude for Rollins’ trombone and Alex Morgan’s keyboards. Alex Morgan and his Hammond Organ if you will.
“Funk and Disorderly” does exactly what it says on the tin. Funky horns, a seventies style clavinet sound from Morgan and crisp drumming from Sam Agard.
“Soul’d Out” keeps the pot bubbling. “Shaft” style rhythm guitar underpins Rollins’ street-smart trombone and keyboards.
Steven Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” is the only outside tune on the album, the others being Rollins originals. The version here echoes that of the Isley Brothers and keeps up the soul and funk quotient.
“On Da Floor” features Rollins on vocals and is unashamed 70’s style disco. For me it’s a bit of a weak track as I never liked this style of music first time around. However I acknowledge that it’s essential to the structure of the album as a whole. Plus there’s a rather splendid trombone break to help keep me amused. And it’s still funky.
“Head Rush” features more hip hop beats and the mercurial trumpet of Jay Phelps alongside the leader’s trombone. Excellent.
“Miracle You” cools things down a little and edges closer to ballad territory with Rollins effecting a warm, well rounded tone. The tenderness of his approach contrasts well with the brash , funky and earthy playing we’ve heard previously.
“Stagga Back” approximates the drunken walk home and throws a dub reggae element into the mix.
“Alibi” is the ultimate “morning after” tune with its ambiguous title.
“Big Night Out!” is a hugely enjoyable record with some memorable tunes and some great grooves. There is a very natural sense of exuberance throughout, with Rollins always centre stage. His trombone is at the hub of the proceedings and takes most of the solo duties.
Rollins has a remarkable facility on the instrument. He is a master of its different styles and techniques and covers its full dynamic and emotional range. As a programmer Rollins shows plenty of imagination and lays down some seriously heavy grooves. This may be an album with simple intentions but it’s immaculately crafted and great fun.
Dennis - your mission if you decide to accept it - is to bring back some street cred to the much-maligned trombone.
Mission Impossible? Not a bit of it. Mission accomplished, I’d say.