Posts Tagged ‘directions in groove’

Guitarist Tim Rollinson‘s approach – that of taste, space and minimum waste – is one of the joys of anything he puts out into the world: whether it be the Acid-House of D.I.G. (Directions in Groove) or, more recently, the exquisitely urban-nocturnal Modern Congress, or all points between.

Rollinson’s new album – Nitty Gritty – keeps that chill ethos to the fore across ten tracks that conjure old-school/nu-school grooves paying homage to all that is  chilled and tasty. Along for the ride is probably the best band in current Australian jazz that you could dream-team for a project like this: Shannon Stitt on keys (an integral foil on Hammond and Rhodes), Alex Hewetson on Fender bass (as they used to say in the 70s where much of this music lives) and drummer Nic Cecire (who can do anything, but does this oh-so-well).


Slinky album opener ‘Handful of Clay’ starts bluesy but slow-burns through to a sharply grinding coda – a very live sounding crescendo. The live vibe here is all across Nitty Gritty – in common with the blues and the best jazz, an album such as this dries up and dies on the vine if that in-the-moment feeling is not captured.

‘Gravity Waves’ has Rollinson bringing to mind the loose-wristed lines of Cornell Dupree over a relaxed funky bed (any reference I make to other artists from here on in is only for flavour – Rollinson is always Rollinson, without doubt).nitty-gritty-1

‘Criss Cross’ is reminiscent of The Crusaders‘ more trippy moments with Stitt sampling Joe Sample‘s soul in his beautifully shaped solo (the above referential disclaimer goes for Shannon Stitt as well). His sneaky electronics across the Skatalite-like title track, ‘Nitty Gritty’ bring the project up to date, as equally on the deep-cubby band-collaboration ‘Truce’ (which Rollinson counters with the country-clear steel of six-string banjo). His Headhunters‘ Rhodes makes the tough funk of ‘Hullaboogaloo’ totally Herbie-aceous.

Nice to see the blues here too. ‘Slow Motion’ has a beautiful singing single-pole solo, with the jazz-guitarist in Rollinson keeping the bends to a minimum while still saying everything he needs to say. Album closer, the moody minor mood ‘Snake Oil’, has a much blues as bop in Rollinson’s fluid solo – his vocabulary holds them all quite easily.

Nitty Gritty calls to mind John Scofield‘s enormously successful Scofield Au Go Go of a few years back and in many ways comes from the same place: a love of groove and the improvisational ideas which flower from the deep earth of funk. Tim Rollinson’s album is subtler and, in my opinion, wider in scope and colour than Sco and Co.’s boogaloo-fest.

I suggest, as a recent Nobel Prize winner said many years ago, that you dig its earth.


Tim Rollinson launches Nitty Gritty on 22 November at Foundry 616 –

Tim Rollinson’s website is here –


Published October 2106 on and


It is seven years since Sydney guitarist and musical polymath Tim Rollinson has put out a release under The Modern Congress banner. 2005’s The Hidden Soul of Harmony was described as a smooth seductress that aims (and succeeds) to tease and tantalise lovers of contemporary jazz.” (In The Mix, May 10 2005). Purple prose aside, it really was a delight; an urbane, chilled delight.

Rollinson’s tenure as an original member of D.I.G. (Directions In Groove) as well as a sharp and imaginative jazz guitarist (check out his jazz trio sometime) allows for his musical vision to be an eclectic one. His studio/electronica alter ego The Modern Congress widens that vision even further – limited only by Rollinson’s imagination, a singular imagination both febrile and fertile – for the new one, 2012’s The Protagonist.

From the dubby snare shots into the tabla groove of opener ‘Mesquite’, Rollinson pulls out myriad upon myriad of sound, his liquid guitar glistening over the top. ‘The Halo Effect’ is a gorgeous slice of Latin rock with a sly Hammond solo from Darren Heinrich and a wicked Green-powered guitar solo, (Grant, that is – not Bob Brown) from Tim Rollinson himself.

‘Justified’ features the wise yet pained vocal of Linda Janssen over a smoky chill groove. Tina Harrod lends her wonderful talents (singing at the top end of her register to great effect) to ‘Little Man, Big Man’.

As you can see, Rollinson has an A-list of collaborators on The Protagonist. The album bristles with input from international and Australian jazz heavy hitters. Almost all of D.I.G. is here (Alex Hewetson, Scott Saunders, Rick Robertson), as well as go-to guys such as Gerard Masters, Hamish Stuart and Jonathan Zwartz. New York-based Barney McCall lends some dreamlike Wurlie electric piano to ‘Dew’.

But this is not a ‘jazz’ album in the sense of head-chorus-head; far from it. As stellar as Rollinson’s contributors/collaborators/partners-in-groove are, they do not impose their will upon the music beyond lending each track just what is needed. In fact, several of the individual musicians recorded their tracks remotely and sent them in to Rollinson. 

And it is this sense – the sense of Tim Rollinson as The Improviser – weaving music in the studio from all these great players’ individual threads that retains The Protagonist’s ‘jazz’ feel: that feeling of wonderful openness and possibility, even though the tracks were painstakingly put together in a low-lit studio and not a humid stage somewhere. It is testament to Tim Rollinson’s artistry and deft feeling for music that this works at all – let alone as beautifully as it does.

A perfect example is The Protagonist’s 2-part closer – ‘Once Upon A Time (Parts I & II)’. A lazy drift of beats and accents, it features Eduardo Santoni’s wordless vocal in Part I and Chris Field’s tabla in Part II. It just goes on and on, like clouds blowing across an afternoon hilltop or a midnight rain streetscene sliding by a cruising car, one idea dovetailing into the next as if Rollinson was sitting at a great keyboard, ‘playing’ his players. Which, in effect, he was.

Check out The Modern Congress’s website here.

Published April 2012 on

D.I.G – Directions In Groove – hit the stage of The Studio at Sydney Opera House, hard and tight at the tail end of their national tour to promote the new album Clearlight – their first studio album in thirteen years.

After a warm up set from the unique Abby Dobson (accompanied by Paul Mac), the room darkened into sea greens and acid purples and Clearlight’s ‘Pythonicity’ boomed through the PA. One by one the band came on stage and seamlessly merged with the recorded track until they were playing it, live. As a piece of theatre it was rivetting and something few ‘serious’ jazz flavoured groups would think to do – but that is D.I.G, never running with the pack. And D.I.G fans love them for it.

Keyboardist Scott Saunders announced the next piece, ‘All Is Quiet’, jokingly chiding us in the audience for being a little too quiet and ‘well behaved’. The featured soloist here was guitarist Tim Rollinson who rippled and howled over the band with fluidity and fire. (I caught a showcase gig that D.I.G played earlier this year at Newtown’s NOTES and Rollinson’s solo there was brittle and a little hesitant – tonight, toughened from touring, the guitarist – and indeed the whole band – was unstoppable).

Saunders introduced new D.I.G vocalist, Laura Stitt and they went into Clearlight’s opener, ‘Strangers Talking’. A sharp and hooky (almost) pop track, ‘Strangers Talking’ serves as a bright wake-up and a statement of intent for D.I.G’s new, evolved direction. Stitt – the latest in a line of enviable vocal collaborators such as Inga Liljestrom and Michelle Martinez – possesses a voice and style that work perfectly within the D.I.G sound-world; just like the band, her approach evokes jazz (tasty little Billie Holliday phrase endings), trip-hop, soul and the best of contemporary pop.

Stitt stayed onstage for ‘Upside’ and the surreal dreamscape of ‘Rumour Has It’ from 1998’s Curvystrasse, which took us into the new track, ‘Sunnyside’, a wash of synths with Stitt’s sky-clear voice floating disembodied over the top. The whole room held its breath until we were safely back to earth.

‘Bassick Insync’ serves as a vehicle for the joyfully funky bass of Alex Hewetson. Together with the astonishing Terepai Richmond on drums, they form one of the most intense and truly funky rhythm sections around today. And it is a funk that breathes – even moving in and out of tempo – rather than a funk that suffocates, which sadly every Saturday night brings to damp rooms all over Sydney. It is the jazz at the base of their playing that keeps the groove always moving forward, light and delicious.

A case in point is the Scott Saunders-rapped ‘Two Way Dreamtime’ from 1994. The groove is sinuous and preciously held all the way, allowing tenor/alto saxplayer Rick Robertson to paint lines and dots across the music. Robertson opens the following ‘O’Cumbaya’ with an ancient-sounding motif, a timeless African blues line, in the vein of Weather Report’s global voice. Whether playing simple three note phrases or free-jazz squalls, Robertson expresses it all with a great respect for the material and an obvious joy in his instruments’ voice.

By the time Laura Stitt returns for Clearlight’s title track, the natives at the bar are growing restless, whooping and clapping along. Closing number, ‘Re-Invent Yourself’ from 1994’s Deeper seems to flip a switch that says BOOGIE and the stagefront is filled with dancers. And I am reminded again what a great dance band D.I.G is, and just what groove truly is for. The track finishes and the band leaves the stage but the dancers will not allow this coitus interruptus and cajole D.I.G into just one more: ‘Favourite’, also from Deeper ignites the room with its ass-shakin’ riffing.

Music for the head, the heart and the ass. All the greats – Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery et al – know how to give us this anatomy lesson so well. D.I.G speak this language in a voice that will have us coming back for more and more. Long may they groove.

Published December 2011 on



What is funk? Like ‘swing’, like love, like charisma, it is impossible to define – a thing built on and of nuance, its defining characteristics hidden deep in its grooves, invisible but completely ‘there’. Miles Davis had it, Marvin Gaye had it, even Keith Richards has it. When it comes to true funk, many have tried and most have failed.

Sydney band Dig (Directions In Groove) have had it from Day 1 – or rather from their first release, the 1994 EP Directions In Groove. Based around the Acid Jazz style of the day, but leaning on a range of styles such as rare groove, electro funk and 60’s Soul Jazz, the band was a hit right from the start. The exceptional rhythm section of Alex Hewetson on bass and firecracker drummer Terepai Richmond really made you sit up and take notice. Guitarist Tim Rollinson, saxophonist Rick Robertson and rappin’ keyboardist Scott Saunders took you new places. As a band they were a rare and beautiful thing – defying categorisation but hitting you where you live: music for the head, heart and booty all in one.

Twenty years after their formation – after a career of international highs, critical buzz, musical adventures and the blah-blahs that push every band into taking a rest – Dig are back with the old chemistry and a new album, Clearlight. I was fortunate to speak with Tim Rollinson, Dig’s guitarist and producer of Clearlight about the new album.

Rollinson is a passionate and thoughtful musician – as well as the album, we talked briefly about his guitar set-up which is in a constant state of evolution and evaluation, as is the music of the band. He explained the evolution of Dig through all of their releases, up to their last studio album Curvystrasse (1998), recorded at the time of the digital revolution (with all its tweakability) and thus their most ambitious recording to date.

The gestation and birth of the new one, Clearlight, came about entirely organically, as various planets came into alignment, bassist Alex Hewetson recently returned to the fold and one thing led to another. The album has that solidity at its root – despite the typical Dig style-hopping – of a work that has not been forced, but has come about of its own. From the sparkling, almost electro-pop opener ‘Strangers Talking’ to the dubby, trippy surrealscape of closer ‘Euphonic Depth’ it is a great trip, accessible yet artfully made.

‘Strangers Talking’ features the band’s latest collaborator, vocalist Laura Stitt, known to Sydneysiders from her funky band, Uncle Jed. Dig has had some great singers along the way – Toni Mott, Inga Liljestrom, Michelle Martinez – so the bar was set high. At first ambivalent about having yet another vocalist join up with Dig, Rollinson says he (and the rest of the band) was bowled over by how good the fit was. Tim Rollinson explained to me that on Clearlight the band was going for a greater integration of vocals into the music than on any other previous release – a fit that is evident on ‘Strangers Talking’ and the smooth-as-skin title track ‘Clearlight’.

The instrumental tracks are pure Dig – whatever that may mean with a band as hard to define as this. ‘Bassick Insync’ with its punning title and Alex Hewetson funk-bass intro sums up what we all love about this band – a skintight groove with enough blood pumping to bring to mind the greats without any slavish reference. Different feels such as ‘New Sense’s Afro-funk groove or the rock pattern of ‘Reality’ all contain the same slave-to-the-rhythm ethos that works so well. The chilled latin-flavoured ‘Juanita Nielsen’ is Rollinson’s tribute to the 70’s anti-development heroine of Kings Cross who was brutally murdered for her stance (the case is still open; Google it – it is a piece of Sydney history that should not be forgotten).

Rollinson says that the album was recorded across a range of recording environments (from pure live takes to heavily digitised layering) and yet it all sounds cut from the same rug: all bristling with life and the joy all four Diggers have grooving with each other. I checked a showcase gig they did earlier this year at Newtown’s Notes venue and that joy was evident. A few times there I truly thought Terepai Richmond would fly off his drum stool with the momentum of it all.

Clearlight will be released 17 November and Dig are touring the album nationally over November and December. Keys player Scott Saunders says of the current project and tour “It is not often that you get a second chance in life, but it look like we got lucky with Dig”. Dig fans around the country are probably thinking just that same groovy thought.

Published November 2011 on