Dennis Rollins and Badbone/ Empirical, Bristol Zoo Gardens


What a tantalising prospect! An open air gig, in the zoo gardens, and two very different bands. I was particularly intrigued by Empirical as I ‘d not seen them live before (possibly the only jazz fan in UK not to have managed this?). I’d like to say more, but somehow the steady downpour took the edge of Empirical’s set. There was quite a respectable sized crowd determinedly sitting it out under umbrellas and making the most of soggy picnics. The band ploughed on with their set; my dominant impression is that they are a band. That they are scarily good musicians individually goes without saying, but there was also a real sense that they were a single organism – a very felixible, sometimes reflective, sometimes propulsive, mostly quite abstract sound morphed from one tune to the next, with occasional bursts of very tight groovy themes (think late 60’s Miles Quintet with something of that elctro- funk sound to it but different again…). In more favourable conditions I suspect it would have been very intense. As it was, a tantalising hint in between squelches, but I’ll definitely be checking them out again.

Dennis Rollins obviously had control over the rain as it dried up for his set. So, armed with a cup of tea (served very slowly after a pantomime worthy of Mr. Bean) we ventured into the crowd which had sprung to its feet. This was another good time gig with Mr. Rollins working the crowd like a master. Its a very funky set with endless catchy riffs and hooks and another great, impossibly young , band. What made it for me, was the very muscial and melodic brain at work. The pace and feel changed and evolved over the set as well as within tunes; we were drawn in and wound up. So, a cover of Steven Stills’ “Love the one you’re with” started with Trombone, acoustic guitar and bass. Red Scent ( a Rollins original) started with a very funky groove that got everyone going and the encore – well that was a ‘know you’re audience choice”. It was a delicate cover of Tracey Chapman’s Fast Cars starting again on trombone and acoustic guitar and half the audience singing along with the chorus. Having left my jazz anorak at home, I left with a smile on my face.


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