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hr-Bigband: Once in a Lifetime

The hr-Bigband, an arm of Hessian Radio (Hessischer Rundfunk), located in the German state of Hesse, is a superb group of musicians who know how to play together and improvise at a very high level. Their recordings often involve famous Americans, and Once in a Lifetime features organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Indeed, DeFrancesco is the star of the show as he’s the dominant soloist as well as frequently the leading player in the ensemble.

Conductor Jörg Achim Keller wrote the resourceful mainstream arrangements of such well-known songs as “Shangri-La,” Jobim’s “Once I Loved” and “Meditation,” Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon for Two,” and five other standards, including a hip chart on “Tennessee Waltz” that evolves into a galloping blues romp. On really fast tracks like “Once in a Lifetime,” DeFrancesco gets all over the organ, swinging with breathtaking facility, while on ballads like “I’m a Fool to Want You,” he’s at his most soulful, with everything informed by the blues and bebop. Hamilton mostly avoids the spotlight, as he only has a couple of brief solos, but he’s always in control of the rhythmic foundation with exquisite taste and a perfect sense of time.

Originally Published