Organ players bailed out of their own regular gigs on Saturday, flocking to see Joey DeFrancesco burn it up at The Egg’s (smaller) Swyer Theater. Some snuck in before the show, just to check out his hardware.
But the software — his musical ideas and his cushiony fingers — were even more impressive.
Nearly as wide as the keyboard of his new Diversi organ (he’s part owner of the company, he proudly announced), DeFrancesco led his trio — drummer Byron Lanham and guitarist Paul Bollenback — into Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile” to start, exploring its mid-tempo funk with deeply swinging pedaled basslines, zippy lead lines and dramatic outbursts.
In “Somewhere in the Night” (theme to 1950s TV-noir hit “The Naked City”), he used a wider palette, synthesizing strings atop eruptive organ riffs as guitarist Paul Bollenback took a delicate route through the tune, chiming bell-like harmonics.
Drummer Byron Lanham’s ballad “Jean’s Dream” went even further outside, DeFrancesco playing muted trumpet in the late 1950s Miles Davis style over sweet guitar.
Soon the mute came off, and the gloves, DeFrancesco etching harsh, hard lines across the melody with synthesizer before settling back on the organ.
DeFrancesco played and sang on “The Nearness of You,” his vocal technique as shaky as his trumpet had been in “Jean’s Dream,” but he emulated flute and alto flute with synthesizers to pleasing effect. At its best, this was to schmaltz what a Rolls Royce is to transportation.
After the break, he got bluesy with “Got My Mojo Working,” as if responding defiantly late to a fan’s request for blues in the first set.
DeFrancesco sang, and made the audience do the same, challenging everyone to follow his increasingly tough riffs.
Standards formed the second-set peaks, an eloquent “Emily” and a brisk “On a Clear Day;” but the second set had sharper focus and better energy.
Complaints about his speakers distracted DeFrancesco in the second set when he summoned his manager to replace a cable.
They recovered for a convincing big finish, after coasting a bit on Lanham’s skillful but over-long drum solo.
DeFrancesco and his trio were a tight and happy band, grinning when they surprised each other, listening and responding. He was a musician-and-a-half all by himself, tapping basslines on pedals below the keyboard, delivering confident counter-melodies on one keyboard or several.
He was full of ideas and seemed able to play anything his imagination could conjure.
His Diversi organ and the narrow speaker cabinets behind him perfectly emulated the familiar sound — or sounds, rather — of a vintage Hammond B3 and Leslie speakers. And DeFrancesco was most satisfying when he concentrated on the Diversi organ rather than reaching for synthesizers, trumpet or vocal mic.
DeFrancesco and Larry Goldings are the leading exponents of jazz organ these days, the generation coming up after Jimmy Smith and Groove Holmes. (Rocker Steve Winwood belongs in this esteemed company, too.)
The classic organ trio sound is in very good hands with DeFrancesco at the keyboard.
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