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Dillard Organ Trio @ Gibraltar

Feb. 25, 2017

Feb. 27, 2017
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justin dillard
Justin Dillard - Photo credit: Alfonzo Jones

Justin Dillard must have known what he was doing in wearing that “Sesame Street” logo T-shirt of his at Gibraltar Saturday night. Like the long-lived kiddie show, the Hammond B3 organist’s intention appeared to give his listeners some fun as well as school them.

In this case, that schooling was in how to lead his Dillard Organ Trio—or, as he likes to call his ensemble, the DOT—in the panoply of textures and stylistic variations of which his lead instrument is capable within the broad scope of his genre. That scope encompassed everything from accessibly compact funkiness to expansively modal explorations with bluesy restraint in the cozy middle. 

Some of the fun came in witnessing the amiably hulking Dillard move over his keyboard in actions appearing alternately meditative and animated. More often than not, he would start his cohort on any given sonic journey by executing a brief solo passage, sometimes intricate as Virgil Fox assaying the most baroque of fugues, at others loosely unearthing a Jimmy McGriff-inspired blues root of what he identifies as his signature “git down” sound. No matter how he commenced or concluded a piece, though, his palpable, excited serenity born of spontaneous, invigorating sonic creation with simpatico accomplices beamed throughout the casually classy confines of Milwaukee’s newest jazz club.      

Those accomplices were often startling as their leader. More economical in his playing was guitarist Vincent Roofe. Though given ample opportunity to run off some slyly captivating solos with the slightly gritty tone of his ax, they generally weren’t as lengthy as those of his cohort; he looked as copacetic providing riffs and chords accentuating his partners.  

Sam Jewell’s mastery behind his drum kit, however, threatened to upstage Dillard’s lead. Generously, the maestro sometimes acceded to the apparent demand of his percussionist’s enthusiasm, especially as the trio’s first set incremented from shorter numbers to warm up the crowd to lengthier interplay once everyone’s attention was more rapt. His solo turns found his sticks hitting drum heads and cymbals, including an unusually low-slung hi-hat, in nigh breathtaking complexity. The seeming tension in the restraint he showed while locking into a funk groove or keying down the energy for a blues run was as enjoyable to witness in contrast.    

Though Gibraltar is intimate in size and atmosphere, Dillard could have used a microphone for what little talking he did, especially as he tended to do so over the applause he and his players merited. That may have been the only glitch in an evening at a nightspot with a band that both look to be going upward.


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