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I caught the first set of Barbara Dennerlein's concert at the Spreckles Organ Pavilion on July 29, my first experience listening to the much talked about outdoor pipe organ. Dennerlein, on the other hand, I've been enjoying since the early '90s, when she released That's Me an album featuring the great trombonist Ray Anderson.

She opened with "Oversized," an original that took advantage of the many timbre possibilities of the instrument, although the bass pedals seemed awfully sluggish to me, putting some serious brakes on her ability to swing the way she can on her Hammond B-3. Still, she managed to keep it interesting with effective use of repetition, color and occasional swaths of dissonance.

The second piece, "Symphony in Minor," was more ambitious, beginning with echoes of European Classical music before switching up to a groove section where her judicious choice of instrument stops started to really click. Maybe I'm shallow when it comes to pipe organs -- but for me, Dennerlein's performance was at its peak when she went for it, volume and density wise. Those moments were golden, and too rare.

On "Holy Blues," the organist brought local tenor saxophone hero Daniel Jackson to the stage, and in the course of three or four notes, he transformed the energy of the performance into a higher plane. Jackson ran it down, so to speak, and his blues fluency seemed to inspire Dennerlein into a less risk averse dynamic.

Jackson hung around for "Tin Tin Deo," providing some potent commentary in stark relief to the organist's grand gestures -- often distilling everything down to the most essential elements. I only wish he stayed "on-mic,' more consistently, because his beautiful tone tended to get lost in the air whenever he moved an inch out of the pick-up pattern.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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