(4 / 5)
Big fan of this cool cat. A sucker for Hammond stuff, and have seen and shot pix of a fair few of the greats over the years; Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Barbara Dennerlein and more. Not caught this guy live yet, but he’s on my bucket list. He swings like a mutha and it sometimes sounds like may well have an extra pair of hands.
Philly born, he recently flew back to his home city from his base of Phoenix, to receive a star on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame, alongside local giants such as Coltrane, Dizzy and Nina Simone. He is no good company and his name deserves to be there alongside such legends. Organ-based blues and jazz started in Philly…
Jazz and blues is in his genes; from his saxophonist-grandfather Joseph DeFrancesco, and his father – organist “Papa” John DeFrancesco. Joey has a second string to his bow, in the form of being a demon on the trumpet as well as the B3.Inspired by his first big boss, Miles Davis – with whom DeFrancesco gigged when the organist was in his late teens. DeFrancesco swiftly picked up on the trumpet after a touring stint with Miles Davis, as one of the two youngest players ever recruited for any of Davis’ ensembles.
He has recorded and/or toured with his own groups as well as numerous renowned artists that include Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, James Moody, John Scofield, Bobby Hutcherson, Jimmy Cobb, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, David Sanborn and many more. A three time Grammy-nominee, with more than 30 recordings as a leader under his belt, he has received countless Jazz Journalist Association awards and other accolades worldwide, including being inducted into the inaugural Hammond Organ Hall of Fame in 2014, the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 2016 as well as topping the Critics Polls in DownBeat Magazine eleven times over the past fifteen years and the Readers Polls every year since 2005. DeFrancesco also hosts a weekly radio show.
His debut for the Mack Avenue label “Project Freedom”, sees him lead a crack quartet, with JD on organ, keys and trumpet, joined by drummer Jason Brown, Troy Roberts on tenor and soprano sax and Dan Wilson on guitar. The 11-strong set produced by Joey and recorded in New York. Seven of this song collection written by Joey, and he covers (a 41 second snippet) Lennon’s iconic “Imagine”, as the first track, Johnson and Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, “So Near, So Far”, penned by Tony Crombie and Benny Green and my all-time favourite song, Sam Cooke’s aptly titled for these turbulent times, “A Change Is Gonna Come”. All songs arranged by Joey.
Quick to mention the influence of Philadelphia in every note that he plays – “that’s where all my initial inspiration comes from,” he explains – DeFrancesco looks beyond worshipping at the altar of Hammond B3 priests, such as Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff on “Project Freedom”. “It was never JUST organ and it was never JUST jazz for me,” says DeFrancesco of a personal past that figures into new songs, such as the space-funk of the title track or what he calls the “free soul” of Sam Cooke’s emotional “A Change Is Gonna Come.” His approach to playing and composing comes from the saxophone, not the organ.
Being a frequent flyer with a globe-hopping world touring schedule has given DeFrancesco insight into differing – but not opposing – viewpoints that he longed to espouse through music. He feels that touring musicians are “spreading peace” and no matter what happens in the world, the players on the planet keep on playing, sometimes in the so-called forbidden places too. Through war and conflict, problems melt away through music. The musicians among us are playing for these people, hanging out with them, and everyone comes together and everyone is grooving with each other because of the music. “That is true freedom. Music is true freedom.” Amen to that.
With 41 years as a professional musician behind him and organ being his mainstay, DeFrancesco has been longing to change up the game: “I’ve exhausted the instrument – it’s like breathing to me – I’ve wanted more from what I’ve already done musically. I find myself asking, how do I expand?” The swirling soul of the third cut here, “The Unifier” gives listeners an idea as to how to make the organ purr anew, with just the addition of a wah-wah pedal. It makes the organ sound like a Moog and gives it a rich, ‘weird’ vibrato.
Then there is his expansion of his work on the trumpet. The organist was toying with the horn throughout his start in the ‘80s when he hooked-up with Miles Davis. DeFrancesco is not surprised that songs such as the slow, twinkly “One” and the uptown-funky “So Near, So Far” (the latter penned by trombonist Benny Green, from Davis’ Seven Steps To Heaven) carry on in the Miles tradition.
In-the-pocket drummer Jason Brown adds huge value here. Dan Wilson on guitar has that George Benson-Wes Montgomery-Grant Green thing down cold. Troy Roberts, the man behind the tenor and soprano saxophones here, is sublime and a perfect fit.
DeFrancesco aims to tell a story of love, humanity and positivity at a time of overwhelming negativity, to spread goodness when the news runs rampant with stories of brutality, violence and prejudice. One song that’s become a centre-piece within the ideology of “Project Freedom”, is the quartet’s cover of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song DeFrancesco began improvising as an encore for his 2003 appearance at the Detroit Jazz Festival. He wanted to relive that story, that feeling, here. A triumphant moment here.
He has recorded and/or toured with his own groups as well as numerous renowned artists that include Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, James Moody, John Scofield, Bobby Hutcherson, Jimmy Cobb, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, David Sanborn and many more. A three time Grammy-nominee, with more than 30 recordings as a leader under his belt, he has received countless ‘Jazz Journalist Association’ awards and other accolades worldwide, including being inducted into the inaugural ‘Hammond Organ Hall of Fame’ in 2014, the ‘Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame’ in 2016 as well as topping the ‘Critic’s Polls’ in DownBeat Magazine eleven times over the past fifteen years, and the ‘Readers’ Polls’ every year since 2005. DeFrancesco also hosts a weekly radio show.
If this record had been released in the 50s or 60s on the iconic Blue Note jazz label, it would probably have become a classic by now. No reason why it should not become one now. Just ask legendary producer Quincy Jones, who is a big fan and writes the sleeve notes on the CD. He says Joey is without doubt, one of the greatest B-3 players since Jimmy Smith, and “he sure has the chops to prove it”. He says this record is a “new intersection between jazz and blues” without losing the integrity of the classic songs he remodels. Nothing more to be said; if the Guvnor QJ loves it, so should we!
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’