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Joey DeFrancesco: The Philadelphia Connection

Joey DeFrancesco, 31, has been leading his trio with guitarist Paul Bollenback and drummer Byron Landham for 12 years, during which time he has become the reigning king of jazz organ. The Philadelphia Connection, a tribute to organist Don Patterson, catches the group at full throttle, burning most of the way. Ballads and Blues, which features guests Pat Martino, Gary Bartz and family members Papa John DeFrancesco and brother John DeFrancesco on various tracks, is a more balanced set.

Larry Hollis’ liner notes for The Philadelphia Connection state that Patterson was noted for his ability to apply a lighter, pianolike touch to the heavier-handed organ keyboards. Patterson was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1936 and died in Philadelphia in 1988. He backed Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Eric Kloss and Wes Montgomery during his career, often with drummer Billy James, and he recorded several albums as a leader on Prestige and Muse.

DeFrancesco’s tribute includes mostly standards and originals associated with the late organist. Except for “The Good Life,” where the leader shows off his dramatic orchestral approach to a ballad, and his slow blues, “Blue Don,” the tempos are medium and up. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blue ‘n’ Boogie” flies at a death-defying pace, but the trio handles it with the same control and energy it brings to the other performances. DeFrancesco and Bollenback have become secure soloists with technique to spare, and the trio has become a well-integrated unit that thrives on the excitement of cooking together.

Ballads and Blues opens with DeFrancesco’s “Get It All,” a trio track that would have fit perfectly on the HighNote album. Then guitarist Martino replaces Bollenback on Cal Massey’s “These Are Soulful Days” and later on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” (Martino plays longer, more modally oriented lines than Bollenback.) Alto saxophonist Bartz joins the regular trio on Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane” and Lee Morgan’s “Ceora.” This is a fine matchup that DeFrancesco should explore at greater length in the future.

“Jammin’ in the Basement” is a family affair with Papa John on organ and brother John playing B.B. King-tinged guitar. Four trio cuts complete the album, including, of all things, “Home on the Range.” To close, DeFrancesco sings “That’s All,” a performance that evokes the late organist and singer Joe Mooney. (Does anybody remember him?)

Which album is best? It’s a toss-up. One is hotter; the other has more variety. Both are swinging and solid.

Originally Published