I have seen Duke Robillard several times in venues from here to Calgary, Alberta, performing everything; blues rock, blues, swing, jump and jazz. On Monday evening at the Dakota Bar & Grill in St. Paul, I saw Duke for the first time billed as a jazz act, possibly based on the strength of his recently released CD, Conversations in Swing Guitar, recorded with master jazz guitarist, Herb Ellis. Being fond of a well-played guitar, regardless of the style, I walked into the Dakota with great expectations for an evening of great music.
At the appointed hour, the Duke Robillard Quintet walked onto the stage tot he appreciative applause of the audience in the crowded room. With a line-up that included former Roomful of Blues saxophonist, Doug "Mr. Low" James; bassist, Jesse Williams; drummer, Mark Teixeira: and Matt McCabe on piano (formerly with Anson Funderburgh), Duke Robillard and company opened with a song aptly titled, "Easin' In" from the aforementioned Conversations In Swing Guitar. The opener featured solos by all members of the band as a way of introduction on this jazzy instrumental.
The eleven song set (plus an encore) featured more than just jazz numbers, including songs from several of Duke's recordings over the years as a solo artist, as well as when he was a member of Roomful of Blues, evidenced by a nice version of the T-Bone Walker original, "I'm Still In Love With You," from the very first Roomful of Blues album back in 1977.
Some of the highlights of the evening included a nice version of another T-Bone Walker tune, "Glamour Girl," with a preceding comment from Duke as to how much he was influenced. By the talented guitarist. Another piece from Conversations In Swing Guitar, "Jivin' Rhythm," featured another round of solos from the band and really emphasized Duke's comfort level with the band in what might be construed as a more "sophisticated"setting than your typical smokey blues club. During the set, Duke also performed "Deed I Do," a number from a "yet-to-be-named" upcoming release. During a nice instrumental version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," from Duke's After Hours Swing Session release, bassist Jesse Williams and drummer Mark Teixeira got into some "dueling" solo riffs, while Duke continued to serve up more fine guitar around them.
At one point during the set, Duke asked for requests and received several including a joking (I hope) request for Lynard Skynard's "Freebird" (so much for the sophisticated crowd). Duke just smiled and indicated that he was not even sure if he had ever heard the song, choosing instead to perform a request from his songbook, "Gee I Wish," that included several nice solos and got the audience doing quite a bit of toe-tappin', head bobbin', finger snappin' and table slappin' feeding the enthusiastic performance by the band. The set also included a really fine Jay McShann (the master of Kansas City jazz), tune entitled "Lonely Boy Blues," opening with an extended piano chorus by Matt McCabe.
Following a nice jump blues entitled, "Too Hot To Handle," the band encored with a song from Doug James' solo effort, Blow Me Low, called "Extra Axle," a hot instrumental number to finish off a hot performance by the Duke Robillard Quintet. Overall, the band sounded great and the crowd seemed knowledgeable and appreciative of Duke's talents.
For a nice evening of music, dinner and great atmosphere, visit the Dakota Bar & Grill; you will definitely enjoy the music and the atmosphere. To find out more about the Dakota and to check out the musical schedule, vist their website at www.dakotacooks.com.
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