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December 2000

Joey DeFrancesco/Jimmy Smith
Incredible!
Concord Records

Joey DeFrancesco's admiration for Jimmy Smith is no secret. Therefore, it seems fitting that the young lion who helped revive the jazz organ a decade ago should eventually perform with his musical hero, the man who revolutionized if not invented the jazz organ in the mid-'50s. Recorded live at the San Francisco Jazz Festival in 1999, Incredible! is more a friendly get-together than a battle royale on the two long medleys the pair share. But make no mistake: DeFrancesco does strut his stuff.

The younger organist opens the album with his trio, playing a sizzling "The Champ," a locked-hands, Erroll Garner- and Milt Buckner-influenced "When You're Smiling," a dramatic "The Good Life" and a stepping, uptempo "Indiana." His articulation is clean and the logic of his lines shows both intimate knowledge of the chord changes (and substitutions) and the ability to build climactic riffs and melodic sequences. Guitarist Paul Bollenback and drummer Byron Landham plunge into the electrifying atmosphere with charged accompaniment and solos.

On the two-organ medleys, DeFrancesco joins Smith's trio (Phil Upchurch, guitar; Frank Wilson, drums). Smith starts "The Reverend," with DeFrancesco answering, and thereafter the two swap lead and accompaniment roles through "Yesterdays" and "My Romance" on the first medley. DeFrancesco dominates the solos while Smith takes a wait-and-see approach, but the veteran organist guides the transitions and chromatic modulations and tempo shifts. Smith is bolder on the second medley, with rifling solo blues lines reminiscent of his Blue Note and Verve days of the '50s and '60s on "The Skeezer" and "St. Thomas."

Considering the spontaneity of these performances, it's clear that this meeting was a case of empathy and mutual respect.

Originally published in December 2000
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