Some dates, like Cinco de Mayo or the fourth of July, are cause for celebration year-after-year because of historical context within specific cultures, while otherslike 11/11/11are global, party-worthy phenomena that celebrate a numerical oddity that will only occur once. This specific date marked the 47th birthday of British trombonist Dennis Rollins and served as the prime inspiration for The 11th Gate
, which is notable for a variety of reasons. For starters, this album marks the beginning of his relationship with the Motéma Music label, and the first time the label has signed a British artist. Add to that this serving as the maiden voyage of Rollins' Velocity Trio, which investigates the rarely explored dynamic between trombone, drums and organ, and it's an instant recipe for interest.
While Rollins' albums with his Badbone & Coin addition to sideman work with saxophonists Maceo Parker
and Courtney Pine
have created some buzz around his name, he has yet to traverse the threshold that puzzlingly separates British and American jazz audiences by a wide margin. The 11th Gate
may or may not help him in this department, but it does serve as a fine indicator of his talent, individuality and artistic aplomb.
The eleven tracks that make up this album seem to live by the philosophy that changein groove and styleis inevitable, but quality must remain constant. Rollins delivers choppy melodic lines ("Samba Galactica"), sermonizes with his harmonized self ("The 11th Gate"), engages in a song-opening pas de deux
with Portuguese drummer Pedro Segundo ("The Big Chill"), and rides over the shifting terra firma that underscores many of these songs, and he does it all convincingly.
The intensity, sincerity and rhythmic precision ("Emergence") of his trio matesSegundo and organist Ross Stanley
seem ideally suited, and their unique personalities are highlighted throughout the album. Stanley is capable of exploring the great beyond, cooking in straightforward form, or painting a mood when Rollins' lyrical side comes to the fore, but he also has a hidden gospel fascination and Richard Tee
-like side that makes a brief appearance on "Lightworker." Segundo is steeped in Latin groove traditions, jazz language, and funk-rock forms, but his knowledge doesn't end there. His solo drum vignette ("Contemplation") shows a musician capable of combining clanging Asiatic cymbal sonorities and African-influenced tom work into a short, coherent piece of free jazz.
While 11/11/11 was merely another day in the continuing cycle of time, it has clearly served as a watershed artistic moment for trombonist Dennis Rollins, and this album is the evidence.