When Joey DeFrancescoa key player in the late-'80s Hammond B-3 organ revival while still in his teensteamed up with organ legend Jimmy Smith in August of 2004, little did either know that Smith would pass away a scant six months later. If Smith was ailing, one would never know it from the result of those sessions. Legacy
fulfills the promise indicated by Smith's sitting in at a 1999 concert that would ultimately be released by DeFrancesco as Incredible
. With a fair bit of studio chatter at the beginning and ending of tracks, it sounds like both were having a terrific time.
With a core quartet that features guitarist Paul Bollenback and drummer Byron Landham, both members of DeFrancesco's regular working trio, the emphasis is on groove and blues. Even the opening title trackwith its electric sitar, gongs, and "ghost zitheris, at the end of the day, a blues, albeit one with a subcontinental harmonic sensibility and a touch of modalism. A variety of guests flesh out the base quartet, including the Banda brothers, bassist Tony and percussionist Ramon, and another septuagenarian, James Moody, on tenor on DeFrancesco's swinging "Jones'n for Elvin.
The set combines classic Smith titles"Back at the Chicken Shack, "Midnight Special, and "Got My Mojo Workin', which, while not a Smith composition, is one he coveredwith a couple of standards, including Jobim's "Corcovado and Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas, as well as new compositions by both Smith and DeFrancesco. But the writing is almost secondary to the loose and playful approach of everyone involved, more a means to an end than an end in itself.
Of the two players, DeFrancesco clearly has the broader reach. He's got a more developed harmonic sensibility, as evidenced by his piano solo on the title track; he's also a cleaner player with inarguably better chops. Still, it's not all about technique, and when Smith takes the spotlight, there's something indefinably more potent about his musical choices. Perhaps it has to do with the difference between playing the blues and living them. DeFrancesco plays like he knows it; Smith plays like he means it.
That's not a slight to eitherthe fact that DeFrancesco is unquestionably the more capable player, but Smith the more evocative is simply indicative of the difference between someone still in his mid-30s with a greater set of interests, and someone who, in his 70s, spent a lifetime honing a specific set of skills. Still, sparks fly between the two, but in a good-natured, well-meaning kind of way that has nothing to do with competition and everything to do with egging each other on to greater heights.
Legacy is fitting as Smith's last recording, representing something of a mantle-passing work. Whether or not DeFrancesco, a player with his own reputation, goes on to forge a style as innovative as Smith's has yet to be determined.
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