Jazz Album of the Week: Organist Joey DeFrancesco’s Fix For Everything? 'More Music'...and More Instruments
Throw on Joey DeFrancesco’s new album, More Music, and you’re met almost immediately with the sound of an organ. Of course you are; DeFrancesco’s the most celebrated jazz organist in the world—what’d you expect? But this organ, this organ player… something sounds different, more subdued—earth tones compared to the boisterous musical pastels and neons we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from DeFrancesco.
So what gives?
Well, on four of More Music’s 11 tunes, that’s not DeFrancesco you’re hearing on the organ; it’s Lucas Brown, the Philly based organist whose versatility here—in playing not just organ, but electric and acoustic guitar and keyboard—allows DeFrancesco to make the record he’s long envisioned, one that showcases the full range of his multi-instrumentalism.
So when the leader’s not on organ, he’s either on electric keyboard or acoustic piano or trumpet or tenor saxophone. Or—as on his arrangement of crooner Mario Romano’s “And If You Please”— he’s singing. But even there, he’s not just singing. It’s only on “Just Beyond the Horizon,” “Roll With It,” “Soul Dancing,” and “More Music”—less than 40% of the album— that the leader confines himself to the instrument he’s best known for playing.
Which begs the question: Is DeFrancesco doing too much here?
Readers of a certain vintage might recall the episode of Full House where John Stamos’ character, Uncle Jesse, tried to re-tool his band, Jesse and the Rippers, by playing all of the instruments himself. Uncle Jesse’s running around his basement recording studio like a chicken without a head trying to pull off the impossible, with predictably disastrous results.
Lovable though he may be, DeFrancesco, at least as a musician, is no Jesse Katsopolis; he’s much, much better. And more practical, too. He thought this thing through and made himself two very wise decisions: hiring Brown and drummer Michael Ode.
Brown, a member of Temple University’s jazz studies faculty for nearly a decade, plays a very competent electric guitar when DeFrancesco stays home behind the B-3, as on the title track, “Roll with It,” and “Just Beyond the Horizon.” This is the classic organ trio fare we’re used to from DeFrancesco. Throw on some shades, pop an antacid, and, as Usher would advise, let it burn.
But where Brown really brings the most value is on tunes like the opener, “Free,” the spiritual “Angel Calling,” and the balladic tribute to DeFrancesco’s wife and manager, “Lady G”—selections where DeFrancesco ventures out on trumpet or tenor sax and Brown’s organ playing offers an elegant textural contrast to DeFrancesco’s.
That contrast was exactly what DeFrancesco was looking for when deciding who to cast for this album.
“We don’t sound alike at all, and that’s important,” DeFrancesco said of Brown in the album’s press release. “What’s the point of having somebody that’s going to be playing my stuff note for note? You need somebody to bring a nice contrast and Lucas is confident about who he is, plays at a very high level and sounds like himself on the instrument. It’s nice to be able to introduce another organist to the world that’s got his own approach.”
It couldn’t have hurt either that Brown has plenty of experience accompanying tenor saxophonists, having logged many hours on the bandstand with late Philly tenor-man Bootsie Barnes.
Consider the stakes for DeFrancesco here. He’s playing three tunes here on a secondary instrument he’s never recorded on before, tenor sax. No way he was going to leave this outing’s outcome to chance by bringing on just any organist. Because DeFrancesco knows better than anyone: the organist not only frames a saxophone soloist’s lines as an accompanying pianist would, he also provides the bottom. The trust factor between the two musicians has to be there.
DeFrancesco sounds nothing short of professional as a tenor saxophonist—really nice tone and intonation, and improvisational ideas and choices that make sense and are far from boring. Which isn’t surprising since he’s frequently talked about how important tenor saxophonists past and present—from Pharaoh Sanders and Charles Lloyd to, more recently, bandmate Troy Roberts—have been to his ever-developing musicality. But let’s not leave Lucas Brown’s sensitive and intuitive backing out of the equation here. His playing makes me feel comfortable as a listener; no doubt it made DeFrancesco maximally comfortable as someone recording on a relatively new instrument for the first time.
Ode’s contributions, as a rhythmic backstop who picks and chooses the right moments to take affirmative, hard-charging steps forward, also mustn’t be overlooked. He’s a little younger, a little more new-school, the kind of drummer who can swing and also pepper you with machine gun strafe whenever the mood strikes. Have a listen to “Free” and “Just Beyond the Horizon” to get a full picture of what this very talented young drummer is capable of.
And end with the title track, “More Music,” to remind yourself that, yes, this is in fact a Joey DeFrancesco record you just spent the better part of an hour with. Music like this is why Joey DeFrancesco has earned the license to do everything else he does on More Music. This is home.