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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Jazz Café, London, February 28th 2009
Dennis Rollins I wouldn’t say the Jazz Café is full – but it’s far from empty and upstairs is largely occupied by happy diners, including (it turns out) the mum of saxophonist James Gardiner-Bateman and her pals. Gardiner-Bateman is one of the young British jazz musicians who form, along with band-leader Dennis Rollins, Badbone, perhaps best characterised as a 21st century funk-friendly incarnation of the early Crusaders.
Rollins himself was a Jazz Warrior, and earlier in his career was closely identified with Courtney Pine – founder of the Warriors - with whom he toured widely. Like Pine (who now has an honorary doctorate and OBE for his troubles), Rollins is deeply committed to musical education in the UK. In addition to his own band he works extensively with other musicians and will shortly be touring the UK with the legendary saxophone player Maceo Parker, a regular performance partner.
Dennis Rollins
Did I mention that Rollins plays the trombone, that most unfashionable of brass instruments - "I got the last instrument in the cupboard" – he told an interviewer, “and just got on with it”. In fact he’s an evangelist for his instrument, and rightly so, because in the hands of someone as talented as Rollins it is transformed from a support into a solo instrument that can easily match anything else in a brass section. Now obviously there has to be a physical skill in mastering such a difficult instrument, but added to this, Rollins brings a huge sense of gusto, or joie de vivre, and not a little technical savvy. He’s actually got more effects and loop pedals in front of him than most self-respecting rock guitarists, and he makes use of them throughout the set.
The content is nicely balanced between funk – ‘Full fat funk’, ‘Where it’s at’ and ‘Funky funk’ – and more melodic songs such as Steven Stills’ ‘Love the one you’re with’ and Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast car’. Rollins leads with his fluid and almost silky playing but was ably abetted by Gardiner-Bateman who contributed some ferocious solos on his alto sax, and by guitarist Johnny Heyes. Supporting are Alex Bonfanti on bass, Mitch Jones on keyboards and Jack Pollitt on drums. It’s a real ensemble show, and Rollins goes out of his way to give his musicians all the space they need to perform, and I’ve no doubt, develop. Dennis Rollins
But it’s no training session – it’s as accomplished a night of well-structured and well-performed jazz funk as you could wish for. And as I observed to the Photographer, if you walked into a club in New Orleans by chance and found these guys playing you’d probably think you’d struck gold. Tribute enough to the irrepressible Rollins and his fellow musicians. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Dennis Rollins' MySpace page

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