Lucid Culture


CD Review: Barbara Dennerlein – Spiritual Movement No. 2 – Live

This is what you get when you turn one of the greatest jazz organists of alltime loose in a church with a big, magnificent organ. It might sound extreme to call Barbara Dennerlein the J.S. Bach of organ jazz, but she is unquestionably an artist of extraordinary power, imagination and astonishing technical mastery. Deviously funny, intensely emotional, attuned to the most minute shifts in feeling yet given to titanically grand gestures, Dennerlein is constantly challenging herself. On this live album, she plays the massive, four-manual, 63-stop organ at the restored Kaiser Wilhelm Church in Berlin. While her background is jazz, elements of classical, rock, film soundtracks and straight-up blues all play an important role in her writing. As with all live pipe organ performances, there’s plenty of technique on display here, but what really stands out is the sheer out-of-the-box imagination of Dennerlein’s arrangements and the intelligence of her compositions.


The concert opens with The Unforgettable, a pure blues set to a fast walking bassline, essentially a Hammond B3 groove-jazz song arranged for church organ with an ending that takes the crowd completely by surprise. On the B3, Dennerlein’s claim to fame is her ostentatious use of the bass pedals (she likes to solo on them, frequently using them to carry the main melody), and while this song features a lot of pedal work, what’s most striking is that she keeps it minimal and tasteful. Here, it’s all about textures and subtlety, not gratuitous showmanship.


The second track, the R&B-inflected Always Remember opens ambient and pretty, building from thoughtful explorations in the right hand to a warm, reassuring melody over a richly chordal groove. After that, I-797 is a clinic in the kind of fun you can have with a 2-chord vamp in a church with basically infinite volume at your disposal, literally pulling out all the stops. The next song, the sardonically titled Funkish is a showcase for the use of echo: it’s next to impossible to play funk on an instrument with so much sustain, so Dennerlein uses staccato bursts of sound to literally play off each other. Nicely crescendoing, eventually frenetic bluesy solo too!


The high point of the album is New York Impressions. This richly melodic suite begins somewhat rapt – which is interesting, because Dennerlein doesn’t exactly come across as someone who’s easily intimidated – before becoming more expansive, and yes, exploratory. How ironic that it would take someone from Germany to capture the essence of so much of what New York is all about: majestic, playful, epic, ambitious, optimistic, and packed with delightful minutiae, Dennerlein clearly gets it. There’s even a long, amusing quote from the Toccata in D. The concert wraps up with the stately, slightly ominous blues Farewell to Old Friends, a predictably tongue-in-cheek cover of Satisfaction and the slowly, warmly burning Home is Where My Heart Is.


Obviously, this is a treat for jazz fans, but the audience for this cd should be vast: anyone with a sense of adventure is strongly encouraged to check this out. That, first and foremost, is what Barbara Dennerlein is all about. Well-known in organ jazz circles here, Dennerlein is huge in Europe. This should help earn her the American audience she deserves.

October 10, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’ve got this CD & you did a great job reviewing it – you should also post your review on CDBaby.

    PS I also think New York Impressions was the best part of the CD.

    Comment by Alan | October 16, 2008 | Reply

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