Barbara Dennerlein at Spreckels

Published on PIPORG-L, August 14, 2007
There may not have been any List members at Ms. Dennerlein's concert at the Kimmel Center, but there certainly was at least one at Spreckels last night!

It all started over five years ago. With a more-or-less random GOOGLE search, I'd stumbled upon a picture that was unmistakably Barbara Dennerlein, but she was playing something with drawSTOPS, not drawBARS, and the general console design was something no sane organbuilder would use for anything other than a tracker instrument. A brief exchange of emails confirmed everything I'd inferred from the picture (including the fact that Ms. Dennerlein had branched out from tonewheels to real pipes); not only that, she turned out to be a very nice woman, and she informed me that her "real pipes debut" CD would be released within a few months.

Sure enough, a short time later, "Spiritual Movement No. 1" was released. In Europe. Unfortunately, her normal U.S. distribution channel ignored it (rather pointedly; I can only guess that they didn't want anything to do with anything that wasn't on a Hammond, and didn't think her U.S. fans would, either). I was left with a choice between ordering directly (and having to pay shipping from Germany, and deal with Customs), and paying a gray-market importer through the nose. I chose the latter.

When the CD arrived, I was floored by both her technical brilliance and her diversity of material (from the echoes of Preservation Hall that can be heard in "Rankett Blues" to the opening riffs in "Holy Blues" that immediately brought Ray Charles to mind, to a performance of "Ain't Misbehavin'" that Fats Waller himself would have loved.

And all on a Goll tracker.

The past few weeks marked Ms. Dennerlein's first U.S. tour since the release of "Spiritual Movement," with a stop at Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and concluding at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in San Diego. The crowd was quite good, perhaps a bit bigger than usual. Perhaps some were disappointed that there was no Hammond on stage; I was relieved.

To begin with, there was nothing the least bit canned about this performance. It was anything but "same pieces, same registrations, different organ." Neither was it an evening of "real pipes as an ersatz Hammond," any more than the "Spiritual Movement" CD is "ersatz Hammond." If Barbara Dennerlein wants a Hammond sound (or at least, more than a few fleeting moments of it), then she plays a Hammond. When she plays a real organ, her playing is completely idiomatic to the sound of real pipes. Neither was she trying to force the ninety-odd-year-old Spreckels Austin to sound like the modern Swiss tracker on her CD (if anything, it would have been even less suited to the role of ersatz Goll than that of ersatz Hammond): she had clearly gotten to know the instrument very well, and playing to its strengths (among other things, making frequent use of its chromatic percussion resources).

She began the concert with one of her own compositions, a piece I'd never heard before, "The Unforgettable," which she described as a posthumous tribute to Jimmy Smith. By the time it was over, it was quite clear to everybody there, that real pipes are just as suited to jazz as tonewheels.

Next came Dennerlein's own "Waltzing Pipes." It is of course the nature of jazz to evolve, from one performance to the next, and this piece had evolved considerably in the five years since Ms. Dennerlein recorded it, with (among other things) an extended (and frequently fortissimo) introduction. Not only evolved, but adapted to be just as completely idiomatic to a 1915 orchestral organ as the recorded performance was to the St. Martin's Goll.

This was followed by Luciano Chano Pozo's standard, "Tin Tin Deo," in a performance that was stylistically fairly close to the recording, yet still adjusted to fit the Austin. Shortly before she began the piece, she took off her long jacket. I heard someone remark that she must be getting hot; the thought that ran through my mind was that she was BORN "hot."

Copyright &Copy; James H. H. Lampert, 2007. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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