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Organic Vibes by Joey DeFrancsco

With the passing Jimmy Smith, king of the Hammond B-3, there’s a throne that is conspicuously empty. It’s probably too early to say for sure, but judging from his 2006 release, Organic Vibes, 34-year-old Joey D. certainly is a contender. And not just because he’s grooving on Jimmy’s vintage ’59 instrument. Released by Concord Records, this disc might be the closest thing to the perfect jazz album I’ve heard in years. It’s got a bit of everything - standards, originals, burners, ballads, new talent and living legends - all in the right proportions.

The living legends, alone, are reasons to pick it up. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might guess the date belongs to the vibes player, none other than Bobby Hutcherson. With young hotshots like Stefon Harris deservedly enjoying the spotlight, old timers like Hutcherson are in danger of being upstaged. But Organic Vibes proves the man still has a lot of music - and a lot of fresh music - in him. His tone can be robust or languid, his chops seem as sharp as ever, and he has no problem matching whippersnappers like DeFrancesco lick for lick. He comes out of the gates on fire on "The Tackle," breathes vigor into his own "Little B’s Poem," and makes his instrument sing on "I Thought About You." The organist, who speaks reverently of his mentor Jimmy Smith, clearly has respect for his elders, and here’s why:

Also deserving legend status is sax man George Coleman. Students of Miles Davis will recall that for a short period of time the tenor played with the Black Prince of Jazz, in between his first great quintet and his second great quintet. Well, Coleman still kicks it. His ripping take on "Speak Low" sounds like a solo by a man half his 70-plus years. I only wish he’d played on a few more tracks.

Which is not to say I begrudge 40-something sax and flute man, Ron Blake, his lead on the rest of the disc, particularly on the jaunty "Down the Hatch." Equally impressive is guitarist Jake Langley, a 30-year-old phenom from Canada, who masters all sorts of amazing noise on his axe - I could have sworn it was John Scofield when I first gave the disc a spin - all in devoted service to the music at hand. And drummer Byron Landham channels Jack DeJohnette on his kit, with adventurous time keeping and edge-of-your-seat polyrhythms. He also contributes a couple of beautiful numbers for the set, including the lovely "JeNeanne’s Dream."

But in the end it is DeFrancesco’s project. It may sound like a backhanded compliment, but it speaks volumes for the young organist that his strength on this album is his ability to underplay. He takes some ripping solos, yes, throwing in runs that would set the fingers of lesser keyboardists on fire, but he’s not above vamping for Hutcherson or Coleman - or even his peers for that matter - and he knows that the softest voice sometimes has the most to say. King Jimmy taught him well.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joey DeFrancsco
  • CD Title: Organic Vibes
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Concord Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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