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Review: John Scofield plus Dennis Rollins

Review: John Scofield’s Piety Street Band plus Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio
(London Jazz Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, November 13, 2009, Review by Rod Fogg)

Not everyone with tickets for the Scofield concert bothered to show up in time for trombonist Dennis Rollins, but more fool them. Rollins plays fat and funky low down, rich and vibrant high up and with astounding precision. The trombone has (forgive me) a comical reputation but in his hands it is agile, toneful and at times explosive. The amplified trombone allows him to use a harmoniser, adding a second voice or a whole choir to the notes he plays, creating interesting textures and never-before heard sounds between himself, the Hammond of Ross Stanley and the busy drumming of Pedro Segundo. The lively acoustic of the Queen Elizabeth Hall is not ideal for this kind of music – the bass was indistinct and the drums clattered around your ears from all sides. But I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

Jon Cleary (piano/Hammond/vocals) was born in England but headed off to New Orleans to sit at the feet of the masters and soak up some of that infectious soul that the Crescent City does like no other. Pianists like Professor Longhair, Dr John, they are all in the mix, but Cleary also has a great voice and sings soul and gospel like a native. With bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Terence Higgins, you have a rhythm section to die for, the sort that brings a smile to your face, a shuffle to your feet and a shake to your hips.

So, add one of the top three jazz guitarists in the world (Metheny and Frisell are the other two) and prepare for bliss. Well, maybe not – tonight you had to wait a bit. Scofield’s often-shrill tone and disjointed, angular phrasing suit his own albums to a tee but they don’t necessarily suit this music. From Blue Matter and Still Warm in his early funk/fusion days, through What We Do and Meant To Be in his quartet days (with Joe Lovano on sax) and on to recent releases where he has collaborated (John Medeski – Out Louder) and gone funky (Up All Night and Uberjam) he’s always gone his own way. He has the ideal combination – great technique which never gets in the way of his own unique sound and style.

Well, tonight some numbers, particularly early on in the set, sounded like a good band that had found a strange guitarist. One piece began with some meandering guitar soloing accompanied by the clicking of foot switches as Scofield struggled to find the tone he was looking for.

Things cheered up a whole lot from half-way through the set when he started playing like some old-style blues player; cool rock ‘n’ roll inspired licks were interspersed with gobsmacking fluent runs. It was like he suddenly he found the groove and the band took off with him, leaving the audience on their feet begging for more. The encores, Walk with Me and Don’t Need No Doctor were even better still. It was a great ending to what had at one point seemed like a slightly uncomfortable night.

Rod Fogg is a guitarist and the author of The Totally Interactive Guitar Bible

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