Joey DeFrancesco Trio
Pity the poor guys who had to bring that B3 organ and Leslie speaker upstairs. Maybe that's why Joey DeFrancesco gets booked for more than one night. Last night, the New York-based organist, aided by two first-call locals, drummer Ramon Banda and guitarist Steve Cotter, started off his two-day stint at Studio City's Vitello's in swinging style. His lengthy set summoned the ghosts of organ trios past with a tight oscillating sound that helped make the funky B3 a turntable regular several decades ago.
With a gruff count-off, the trio launched into “Donny's Tune,” the opening track from his latest album, with a Latin-ish start that quickly turned to swing. Cotter opened up the solos with brisk lines over DeFrancesco's active accompaniment before making way for an organ and drum solo. DeFrancesco closed the tune with a sly reference to McCoy Tyner's “Passion Dance” before segueing into country chestnut “Wagon Wheels.”
DeFrancesco chuckled his way through the tune with Cotter offering his own bellowing strut. The band was clearly enjoying themselves and DeFrancesco copped to telling “bad jokes” between tunes.
The band followed with a bouncing “Up Jumped Spring.” Cotter started proceedings with a disjointed guitar solo before DeFrancesco built from a slow and steady start to rapid-fire lines. The band playfully rolled through the swinging waltz with Banda pummeling and splashing his way through an unaccompanied drum solo.
DeFrancesco offered up his versatility on the next tune by busting out a well-concealed trumpet. He played his muted horn with his right hand while providing basslines with his left. His eloquent and spacious tone evoked a late 1950s Miles Davis, with each note deliberately drawn out. It was an impressive display of multi-tasking without either the organ or trumpet suffering in the process.
“V & G” got the full stadium organ effect with Cotter hitting four-to-the-bar block chords as Banda lightly brushed his way across the kit. DeFrancesco gave a swinging solo that hovered over Basie-ish simplicity while highlighting the capabilities of the organ.
The band closed with “Ashley Blue,” a tune dedicated to DeFrancesco's daughter, who was in attendance. It was a straight-forward blues with Cotter and DeFrancesco doubling on the melody. Cotter focused on his lower strings for a Kenny Burrell like solo while DeFrancesco opted for a coy spin that relied upon several breaks before commanding the audience to clap along. The bashing swing was a pleasant close; his great throwback sound goes a long way towards making DeFrancesco's self-proclaimed title of “finest organist on the planet” seem not entirely unreasonable.
Personal Bias: The jazz organ is one of my favorite sounds but I'd hate to have to bring one of those behemoths on the road with me.
The Crowd: Old enough to remember the golden days of the jazz organ.
Random Notebook Dump: All jazz clubs should smell like marinara sauce.