To hear Dennis Rollins perform is to wonder afresh why the trombone is not more routinely in the spotlight in small ensemble jazz. A musician of Rollins’ caliber exploits the unique expressive qualities of the trombone to the full: glissandos taken out of their caricature, comical role and invested with the emotional weight of a well-crafted melody; the stabbing, staccato interludes; growling, bluesy low notes; and beautiful mid-register sustains, which have a soaring quality but without losing that earth-bound quality that the instrument conveys so readily. And although much of the gig has very up-tempo, there was also ample opportunity for Dennis to demonstrate how effective the trombone can be in a ballad. What instrument could better convey, ‘truly, madly deeply’—and come to that, tenderly? This was wonderful playing—and all the better for being so varied.
Those in the audience at the right angle to watch Jim Watson’s hands at the piano were at one with those who weren’t, since seeing really wasn’t believing. This was an amazing display of virtuoso technique, though not in an empty, show-stopping way: this was a musically thrilling performance. A lot of fine pianists work counter-rhythms into their solo work, though few commence them at such a high level of melodic intricacy and harmonic complexity; and more remarkable still was his deployment of counter-melodies. Yet for all of that his solos achieved a drama all their own, they never became detached from the band; and somehow, he always landed with pin-point precision. This was as fine of display of creative thinking wedded to ferocious technique as one could hope to find—or indeed, hope to imagine.
Whatever the context, Arnie Somogyi’s bass playing has a way of blurring the familiar front line/rhythm section distinction, so that every band in which he appears achieves a kind of unity of expression that’s very unusual. His music-making seems to arise from within the song—and he has a particularly strong suit in well-articulated melodic lines—and not merely in his solo spots. This line-up suited him ideally; and he was the pivot for the band’s sound in more that the ways usual for an accomplished bass player.
Matt Home’s drumming was sharp, well-considered and always musically to the point: there was nothing showy or extravagant about his approach—as good a sign as any that he was sensitive to his role in the band’s overall sound. And when called upon to solo, there was no shortage of fireworks, but no diminution of his musical intelligence or sensitivity, either.
Every live performance is soon ‘gone on the air’, but some we’ll long remember. This was one of those gems.
Dennis Rollins – trombone
Jim Watson – piano
Arnie Somogyi – bass
Matt Home – drums
© Jim Whitman