JOEY DEFRANCESCO TRIO
February 8, 2008
by Randy Treece
The ranks of the Hammond B-3 Organ have thinned significantly with the loss of the "mighty burner" Charles Earland, "Brother" Jack McDuff, and the master-himself Jimmy Smith. Still stalwarts of the B-3 are grooving audiences, such as organ guru Dr. Lonnie Smith, legendary Jimmy McGriff, and the undisputed torch bearer Joey DeFrancesco.
DeFrancesco, though only thirty-six years old, has been on the jazz scene for more than twenty years as one of the foremost proponent of the B-3 and touted as reviving the B-3 trio format. In addition to starring in the revered organ led trio and quartets, he has also played in other diverse musical experiences such as Miles Davis and John McLaughlin fusion forays. With nearly two dozen recordings under his belt, and over more than a decade, DeFrancesco has gathered up a bushel basket full of awards as the B-3 titan, including five consecutive Down Beat Critics Polls' recognition as the best Hammond B-3 player in the land. He has certainly assured himself a place in jazz lore. With those types of credentials in tow, DeFrancesco and his venerated trio, which included Byron "Wookie" Landham on drums and Paul Bollenback on guitar, arrived at the Egg to pitched expectations.
The elemental and historical core of the organ-guitar-drum trio is synonymous with grooving and swinging, and this trio did not disappoint when they kick started the show with a pulsating groove on Wayne Shorters "Black Nile" and then they segued into a joyous musical endeavor, which featured a synthesizer that simulated a string quartet, on "Somewhere in the Night." There was nothing retiring about the introduction of this set. The interplay among the trio was remarkably canny and the nonverbal communications, a hallmark of any stellar jazz group, were fully manifested. Because of the length of the songs, both Landham and Bollenback received plenteous opportunity to display their respective musical wares. Landham is a seasoned time keeper and revealed some interesting drumming technique and nuances. DeFrancesco has always played with great guitarists - shall I say Pat Martino - and Bollenback is as good as they get. He has the full guitar repertoire and keeps nothing in reserve. Musical ideas erupted from his fingers as they toured frantically across the guitar fret and he did not coast at anytime throughout the concert. He is a serious jazz musician deserving of much wider recognition.
For those who were placidly pondering the relatively smaller size of DeFrancescos organ, the riddle was solved when DeFrancesco announced that he was not playing a Hammond B-3, but rather a new musical instrument called the Diversi. It is a new organ product with a new sound engine, powered by software, that actually simulates an authentic organ sound. The authenticity of that sound impressed DeFrancesco so much that he has purchased stock in the company. In addition to the Diversi, there were synthesizers, which lent a broader spectrum of sounds and shadings. But with options, also come distractions.
This trio is also imbued with other diverse talents. Landham wrote a beautiful ballad tribute to his wife entitled "Jeanines Dream," a lovely song indeed. On this song, DeFrancesco played the trumpet and Bollenback interjected a Bill Frisell's "intercontinental" flavor. Now, DeFrancesco is widely recognized as a trumpet player and a crooner, but on this evening, both were not representative of his fine recording outputs. Both his singing and trumpet playing were mediocre at best. The strained caliber of the singing notwithstanding, the trio's rendition of the "Nearness Of You" was still beguiling.
The second half of the show began with a funky version of "My Mojo Working" and everything was cool and in a groove until DeFrancesco invited the audience to partake in a sing along, repeating musical phrases that he played on the Diversi. At this juncture, the concert began to disintegrate; a sing along at a jazz concert, please. On the next song,,DeFrancesco reached into his musical bag of tricks invoking all types of eccentric sounds and colors from the synthesizer, alia Chick Corea, which just fell flat and became a distraction. Rather than arousing textures and tones, it had the ring of gimmickery.
Then the audience was confronted with another distraction. Apparently the Diversi was not measuring up to expectations and DeFrancesco's manager was frantically attempting to manipulate the gizmo's wiring during a song as DeFrancesco haltingly barked out instructions. But the trio was able to gather themselves together and did an admirable performance on "On a Clear Day" though harried, at moments, by DeFrancesco's insistence on interposing accessorial synthesized sounds over the B-3. That aspect of the song did not work.
Yet another distraction occurred when DeFrancesco beckoned his manager who was sitting in the audience to tell him what time it was so that he could calculate how much longer he had to play. That beckoning had an instant reverberation of an insult.
You cant go wrong concluding your show with "Moanin." Once again the band was in a groove throughout most of the sound but it ended awkwardly with a silly incongruous sound.
Take this from someone who has attended other DeFrancesco concerts and left them on a high note; they are marvelous musical experiences. This concert, overall, did not quite complete that mold.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz "and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany.