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Joey DeFrancesco: Singin’ and Swingin’

Joey DeFrancesco is a direct descendant from the Jimmy Smith school of single-note burn. The 30-year-old has proven himself time and time again since going out on tour with Miles Davis in 1988 at the ripe old age of 17. His only shortcoming over the years is that he tends to lean a bit too much on his awesome technique. Yet with the recent passing of Charles “The Mighty Burner” Earland, DeFrancesco remains the single most exciting organ soloist on the scene-next to Mr. Smith himself, of course. On DeFrancesco’s latest, Singin’ and Swingin’ (Concord CCD-4861-2; 60:44), the organist whips out his wicked Smith-inspired runs on a big-band vocal program that aspires to the Sinatra/Count Basie collaborations of the early ’60s. DeFrancesco has sung before and proves to be quite the groovy crooner on hip renditions of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and Sinatra staples like “Mack the Knife,” “In the Wee Small Hours” and “I Thought About You.” His clear diction and soulful phrasing on Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Let Me Love You Tonight” sound more inspired by Johnny Hartman than Sinatra. On the instrumental tip, DeFrancesco pulls out the burn on “Mr. Dennis Houlihan,” “The Sidewalk Is Wild” (his spirited reworking of Jimmy Smith’s hit “Walk on the Wild Side”) and a scintillating organ-trio version of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” And he goes to church on a gospel rendition of “Danny Boy,” recalling an earlier version of that traditional number by organ elder Jimmy McGriff. Ray Brown walks the band of West Coast studio aces through the jaunty shuffles like “One Mint Julep” and “Kansas City,” then adds to the funky-butt vibe of the N’awlins flavored “Did You Hear Him Holler?” DeFrancesco’s playing and jazzy vocal demeanor may be too hip for massive crossover appeal (my father, who worships Sinatra, probably couldn’t get with this). But his vocals are real, which makes him either the playingest singer on the scene or the singingest player on the scene. Either way, he’s one prodigious cat.

Originally Published