Barbara Dennerlein: Junkanoo

For her second Verve release, organist Dennerlein has surrounded herself with some pretty impressive company, which seems to elevate her own playing to a new level. Longtime associates like drummer Dennis Chambers, vibist Joe Locke and guitarist Mitch Watkins (bandmates from her days with Enja) are back on board. But it’s the presence of ringers like David Murray, David Sanchez, Randy Brecker, Frank Lacy and Howard Johnson that provides the real spark here.

The funk-rock opener, “A Cat Strikes Back,” has a swaggering Brecker Brothers-ish quality and features some open ended soloing by Randy himself. The soul-jazz boogaloo, “Walk On Air,” grooves along steadily with earthy commentary by Brecker on muted trumpet, Howard Johnson on tuba, Murray on tenor sax and Dennerlein getting down and dirty on the B-3. “Just Play,” full of tight horn hits from a four piece section, swings ferociously and features some heated exchanges between Lacy, Brecker, Murray and Dennerlein.

The organist showcases her penchant for the blues on “Nightowls,” a dark number highlighting Joe Locke’s vibes and a typically nonconformist tenor solo from Murray, and on “Samba And The Drum Stick,” a sprightly groover that also serves as a showcase for Chambers’ incredible sense of independence on the kit. “Easy Going” is yet another variation on the well worn “Killer Joe” motif featuring pungent solos by Watkins and Murray and an extended bass pedals solo by the talented organist.

Compositionally, Dennerlein makes her most original statements on “Visions,” which features some exhilarating solo work from Sanchez on tenor sax and Thomas Chapin on flute and the fragile trio number “Andre’s Mood,” one of two numbers she performs on grand piano. She closes on an exuberant note with the churning title track. Percussionist Don Alias and upright bassist Lonnie Plaxico provide the hypnotic Afro-Caribbean groove while Barbara lays down some wicked B-3 licks alongside Watkins, Brecker and Murray on bass clarinet.

This is Barbara’s most ambitious and by far her best project to date.