by Ian Mann
October 28, 2013
With their superlative musicianship and approachable attitude Rollins and the trio charmed Abergavenny. All in all a rather splendid afternoon out.
Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Swan Hotel, Abergavenny, 27/10/2013.
Trombonist Dennis Rollins has been honing the music of his Velocity Trio since 2009 and the group has developed into a supremely cohesive unit as today’s hugely enjoyable Sunday lunchtime gig demonstrated. Velocity deploys a unique instrumental configuration of trombone, organ and drums and early editions of the band included drummer Shaney Forbes (of Empirical fame) and organists Dan Moore and Mike Gorman. I saw the Rollins/Forbes/Gorman line-up at the 2009 Real Ale, Jazz & Blues Festival in Lichfield, an enjoyable but somewhat ragged show that revealed the group to still be very much a work in progress at that time.
Eventually the personnel stabilised as Rollins on trombone and electronics, Ross Stanley on organ and Portugese emigre Pedro Segundo at the drums, still the current line up. These three recorded the excellent 2011 album “The 11th Gate” for the American Motema record label, the recording a convincing realisation of Rollins’ vision with some excellent writing and playing. At around the same time the trio played an excellent live set at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site.
The affable Rollins is a popular figure on the UK jazz scene and an acclaimed educator and it came as no surprise that he attracted a large lunchtime crowd to the Swan including a number of children. An enthusiastic audience gave the trio a warm reception for two excellent sets of music although background chatter did sometimes present something of a problem, particularly in the first set. It didn’t seem to bother Rollins in the slightest but some listeners, your correspondent included, were a little disgruntled by the behaviour of a very small minority of their fellow audience members - and I’m not necessarily referring to the children here.
However onwards and upwards and on with the music. The bulk of the material in the trio’s live shows is still drawn from the 11th Gate album although Dennis later informed me that the trio hope to record a follow up in early 2014. Looking back to the Much Wenlock show today’s performance followed a very similar pattern and began with “Samba Galactica”, the opening track of the 11th Gate album. Here funky, soulful grooves combined with a high level of musical sophistication with Stanley taking the first solo on his two manual KeyB Duo organ, an Italian made instrument that offers a superb replication of the classic Hammond sound. Stanley was in inspired form throughout with a string of fiery and imaginative solos. Also a highly accomplished pianist he’s in huge demand for his skills on both instruments and is pretty much the UK jazz scene’s first call organist. Rollins followed on trombone, his tone rich and fruity, and the piece was climaxed by a drum feature from Segundo, a drummer of power,wit and invention with an extrovert personality to match that of his leader. Segundo’s drumming style combines technical excellence with a sense of the theatrical and he exudes an obvious enjoyment in his playing.
“Emergence” was inspired by the great American organist Larry Young (1940-79), of “Unity” fame and once a member of Tony Williams’ Lifetime. Introduced by Segundo at the drums the tune’s tricky head proved the jumping off point for a surging solo from Stanley, a fitting tribute to one of the great Hammond heroes.
The following “Ujamma” proved to be another homage, this time to Bob Marley as Rollins relocated the music to Jamaica. The trombonist has a thorough knowledge of the various musical style of the African diaspora as he has demonstrated in his one man show “From Griots To Garage”, an audio visual production that I saw and reviewed at the 2009 Brecon Jazz Festival. Today Rollins made judicious use of electronics in his dialogue with drummer Segundo and quoted liberally from Marley’s “Jammin’”, inevitably a big hit with the crowd as Rollins’ mix of swing and reggae grooves proved irresistible.
An extended solo feature from Segundo introduced “The Other Side”, the drummer clicking out rhythmic patterns on his sticks above bass drum and hi hat pulses, deploying cymbal scrapes and utilising a variety of shakers and other small percussion instruments. It was highly theatrical but also well structured, innately musical and possessed a strong balance between light and shade. Rollins live looped the drummer’s sound to create ever more complex rhythmic patterns before making further use of electronics to layer his own sound. Stanley’s keyboards were alternately spacey or church like as the trio developed a an ethereal, sci fi like soundscape which the composer subsequently dedicated to his late father.
Thus the first set had ended on an unexpectedly sombre note but Rollins promised us something more upbeat in the second half and, true to his word, he didn’t disappoint. The trio’s distinctive take on Pink Floyd’s “Money” has been a hugely popular item at their live shows. I recall that they also performed it at Much Wenlock and today they took even greater liberties with it on an extended version that toyed with off kilter surges, wilful dissonance, baffling stop/start episodes and sandwiched in between it all rousing solos from Rollins and Stanley. Segundo’s drum showcase also featured him whistling through cupped hands to produce an ocarina like sound, a delightful additional twist to a piece that was already a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Rollins announced that he intends to include the song on the next album after it missed the cut for “The 11th Gate”.
That old chestnut “Sunny” became a feature for the excellent Stanley who opened things up in solo mode and continued to dazzle throughout before an exchange of ideas between Rollins and Segundo led the way in to the more sombre “The 11th Gate” itself , an atmospheric offering that saw Rollins and the trio taking a snatch of melody from Gershwin’s “Summertime” and turning it into something more sinister and menacing by way of brooding, gospel tinged trombone and organ.
The mood lightened once more with the trio’s take on Eddie Harris’ best known composition “Freedom Jazz Dance”. Segundo set up the groove at the drums as Rollins encouraged the audience to clap along. From here the trio members set off on a myriad variety of detours and tangents but always came back to that central groove with Rollins exhorting the audience to get involved again. This was great fun with the crowd really getting into the spirit of things between the lengthy passages of instrumental solos and dizzying group interplay.
The second set just seemed to flash by and the terrific reception accorded to the group ensured that the trio didn’t need any prompting from promoter Mike Skilton to return for an encore. Rollins chose to end the afternoon on an elegiac note with a beautiful rendition of the song “The Rose” written in 1977 by Amanda McBroom and covered by Bette Midler, Elaine Paige and more recently Westlife (who had a number one hit with it apparently). The song is a recent discovery for Rollins and his gospel flavoured trombone served it well as he emoted above the backdrop of Stanley’s organ arpeggios and Segundo’s brushed grooves. When the drummer switched to sticks the mood changed from reflective and brooding to celebratory as the arrangement mirrored the lyrics of the song. It’s another piece that is as yet unrecorded and it’s interesting to speculate as to whether this will also be on the forthcoming album.
And yet the afternoon still wasn’t quite finished. Mike Skilton had tipped Dennis off that one table was celebrating a birthday so Dennis strode through the crowd, New Orleans style, to serenade the birthday girl by playing “Happy Birthday” on his ‘bone as Segundo followed shaking a tambourine. Nice touch.
Later as Dennis chatted to fans and Ross Stanley packed away his keyboards Pedro Segundo was demonstrating rhythms to curious punters on his partly disassembled drum kit. When a spontaneous round of applause broke out Stanley sighed “don’t encourage him, we could be here all night!”, but Segundo’s enthusiasm and love of playing was palpable and refreshing.
With their superlative musicianship and approachable attitude Rollins and the trio had charmed Abergavenny. But today’s gig was only possible due to a brief window in Rollins’ schedule, he’d just returned to the UK after touring in Europe with funk legend Maceo Parker and the following day (Storm St. Jude permitting) was due to fly out to New York to link up with Parker again. Meanwhile Stanley informed me that in the new year he should be taking delivery of a living, breathing Hammond complete with Leslie cabinet. Just how good is he going to sound on that?
All in all a rather splendid afternoon out.
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