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Joey DeFrancesco (B-3) + The People – Project Freedom – Mack Ave.

Joey DeFrancesco + The People – Project Freedom – Mack Avenue MAC 1121, 64:20 [3/10/17] ****1/2:

B-3 master shows a lot of heart in debut for new label.

(Joey DeFrancesco – organ, keyboards, trumpet; Jason Brown – drums; Troy Roberts – tenor sax, soprano sax; Dan Wilson – guitar)

Joey DeFrancesco has always been proud of his Philadelphia roots. As a teenager, this emerging B-3 organist garnered praise from the likes of Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. This led to a gig with Miles Davis that got his career off to a fast start. Recently, he returned to his hometown to receive a star on the Philadelphia Music Walk Of Fame. He joined jazz luminaries including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone. Like many other Philadelphia musicians, Joey has embraced the “heart and soul” aspects of his instrumental prowess. There is no organist who is regarded by his peers and critics to such a degree. (He has been voted best organist 11 of the last 15 years in Downbeat Magazine.) As a sideman, he has played with Diana Krall, George Benson, Jimmy Cobb, Ray Charles, Bobby Hutchinson, Larry Coryell, David Sanborn, James Moody and Nancy Wilson to name just a few. His technical expertise and joyful exuberance have thrilled audiences and his 30-album catalog is a self-evident legacy.

DeFrancesco will release his debut for Mack Avenue (which seems like an auspicious match) in March. The organist has put together an impressive quartet (Troy Roberts/saxophone; Jason Brown/drums and Dan Wilson/guitar) to launch his latest album. Project Freedom is exactly that, a personal musical statement, eloquently stated in the liner notes by Quincy Jones as an “…endless supply of imagination mixed with soul and science that shines through every note”. The album begins with an understated 41-second prelude of John Lennon’s world peace anthem “Imagine”. DeFrancesco’s soulful organ opens the title cut. He is joined by Roberts on tenor and a drum solo by Brown. Then at the 2:00 mark, the quartet breaks into hard-charging jazz. Roberts, Wilson and DeFrancesco alternate brief solos before joining in a cohesive finish.

“The Unifier” is reminiscent of fusion with some funky synthesizer that exudes rhythm and blues. Francesco’s extended solo leads into Roberts’ muscular run. Later, a meticulous electric piano is complemented by Brown’s tough drumming, before a nimble tempo break brings it home. The melodic eloquence of “Better Than Yesterday” is palpable. Wilson shines on his guitar solo. Additionally, Roberts glows with tenderness. DeFrancesco glides into the jam with trademark agility. Adopting deeper spirituality, “Lift Every Voice And Sing” is a hymnal with compelling organ riffs, potent saxophone and a “Sunday finish”.

All of the arrangements are versatile, with varying textures. DeFrancesco shines on electric piano and trumpet (with and without mute) on “One”. There is a glow to the music with rhythmic punctuations and supple chemistry. Each number represents a different combination of styles. “So Near, So Far” begins with some funk, then maneuvers through a dizzying array of jazz structures. “Peace Bridge” showcases a haunting film-noir vibe, while “Karma” is cool, swinging and features great solos and some interesting organ tones. Taking on Sam Cooke’s immortal “A Change Is Gonna Come”, all of the hymnal elegance is captured. Roberts’ full-bodied tenor imparts the passion, framed by nuanced organ. DeFrancesco cuts loose on a ferocious, soul-driven run with flourishes and sustains that are inspirational. The quartet bring on the jazz with a street corner “chat”/ hand clap intro on the finale, “Stand Up”. There is a layered transition that builds on the urban contexts. The Latin-infused ending is terrific.

Jazz fans will be delighted with Project Freedom. DeFrancesco and his band provide an energetic, diverse collection of songs. But there is a personalized vision that sets this album, (and artist) apart from his peers!

TrackList: Imagine (Prelude); Project Freedom; The Unifier; Better Than Yesterday; Lift Every Voice And Sing; One; So Near, So Far; Peace Bridge; Karma; A Change Is Gonna Come; Stand Up

—Robbie Gerson

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