Dennis Rollins' Velocity Trio: The 11th Gate
Though it's Dennis Rollins's fourth CD, The 11th Gate is the first international release by the British trombonist, who may be a lesser known quantity on this side of the Atlantic but is regarded as something of a national treasure in the UK. More precisely, The 11th Gate is a release by Rollins's Velocity Trio, which includes organist Ross Stanley and drummer Pedro Segundo. For more than two decades, Rollins has been at the front lines of the UK jazz scene and been a sideman for figures such as Maceo Parker, Courtney Pine, Blur, and even Tom Jones; as a result, the trombonist is equally at home in soul and funk contexts as he is jazz.
The opener “Samba Galactica” brings the trio's sound close to fusion due to Segundo's nimble attack, which is virtuosic though not self-indulgent. Here and elsewhere, the clearly well-rehearsed musicians prove themselves to be telepathic, resulting in pieces executed with precision but with no lack of spontaneity; check out “The Big Chill” for one such example when the organist lays out to let the other two lock together for an opening minute of tight unison playing. Other tracks are squarely in the jazz tradition and specifically in the blues-jazz trio tradition. Despite a number of stop-start compositional interjections, “Emergence” hews to a standard jazz feel in Segundo's swinging rhythms and Stanley's free-wheeling solo. The latter's “Lightworker” provides a blues-gospel organ intro to the trio's breezy rendering of Eddie Harris's “Freedom Jazz Dance” (perhaps most famously covered on the1967 Miles Smiles album). A mellower side of the trio comes to the fore during “The Other Side,” what with its gently swaying, Latin-tinged rhythms and Rollins' lyrical, laid-back playing. Subtle smatterings of funk also seep into the low-down groove animating “Ujamma” while “The Big Chill” digs even deeper into its soul-funk leanings.
The trio format suits the group ideally in allowing each the freedom to play with the abandon of a soloist without getting in the way of the others. Furthermore, the timbral contrast between the trombone and organ brings clear separation and rich instrumental colour to the recording. Rollins generally opts for a burnished and warm tone though is able to grow blustery when the mood strikes (during the bluesy dirge-styled title track, for instance). Stanley and Segundo likewise are as comfortable providing warm support to the leader as they are soloing boldly. But let's be clear: though electronics form part of the instrumental fabric (the leader's horn undergoes some degree of electrified transformation during “The Big Chill,” for instance, and there are multi-harmonized treatments elsewhere, too), Rollins isn't trying to rewrite the rule book nor advance some daring, new conceptual model. Instead, Rollins's presumed goal—to present a straight-up yet solid collection of trombone-led trio performances—is more modest but nonetheless sound and convincingly realized. Naturally, the organ trio tradition is part of the legacy Rollins draws upon, so it's no surprise that in the liner notes he acknowledges Larry Young as an influence, and trombonists Julian Priester and Jimmy Bossche and composer-instrumentalists Monk, Mingus, and Steve Coleman receive nods of recognition, too.