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The City Rhythm Orchestra: Vibrant Tones

Jack Bowers By

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With this new CD and companion DVD, you can not only hear Philadelphia's exciting City Rhythm Orchestra with guest artist and homeboy Joey DeFrancesco burning at the Hammond B-3, you can also see them ramp up the voltage in a crowd-pleasing dockside concert from July '03 at Wiggins Park in Camden, NJ.

Musically, the CD and DVD are far from synonymous. Of the dozen tunes on the CD, seven are repeated in the concert, but with different solos, of course, and showing the kind of spontaneity and energy that can't be duplicated in a studio setting, now matter how hard one tries. Which is not to imply that the studio date is less than exhilarating, as DeFrancesco and the CRO make sure there's no letdown. But there's something about hearing and seeing an awesome big band (and guest) in full flight that makes the experience even more rewarding. What we have is the best of both possible worlds: the clean, harmonious sound of the studio vs. the loose and unplanned emotion of a live performance.

In both cases, DeFrancesco is clearly the star, even though the CRO is more than mere window dressing, playing with precision and power and showing why someone of DeFrancesco's stature is obviously delighted to be in its company. DeFrancesco, no longer the heir-apparent but the undisputed king of the B-3 now that Jimmy Smith has passed on, is a technical whiz who never lets that get in the way of his unquenchable spirit, which shines through on every number and at every tempo. In other words, he's fairly drippin' with soul. On the CD, DeFrancesco is featured on all but one number, and it's another highlight—Johnny Burke/Jimmy van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You, which showcases Paul Bollenback's swinging guitar in a splendid arrangement by Joe Matt who did the same for all or most of the songs on the studio date and perhaps the concert as well.

"It Could Happen is one of five numbers not replicated on the DVD. The others are "Time After Time, "Blues in Hoss' Flat, "It Ain't Necessarily So and "Turn Me Loose, while the DVD includes "Things Ain't What They Used to Be, "Moanin', "Pennies from Heaven (with buoyant vocal by DeFrancesco) and the theme from "Peter Gunn. High spots on both discs include Horace Silver's "Señor Blues, Neal Hefti's "Whirly Bird, Lalo Schifrin's "The Cat, Bird's "Billie's Bounce and Quincy Jones' "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set.

When it comes to the Hammond B-3, there's none better than Joey DeFrancesco, while the CRO has matured over twenty years to earn a niche among the country's most impressive big bands. Vibrant Tones is one instance in which seeing and hearing is believing.

Track Listing: Senor Blues; Time After Time; The Cat; Billie's Bounce; Walk On the Wide Side; Blues in Hoss' Flat; It Could Happen to You; One Mint Julep; It Ain't Necessarily So; Whirly Bird; The Midnight Sun Will Never Set; Turn Me Loose.

Personnel: Nick Vallerio(co-leader), John Guida, alto sax; Wendell Hobbs, Pete Spina (co-leader), tenor sax; Ed Golaszewski, baritone sax; Ken Brader, Bob Gravener, Vinny Borselli, John Bailey, trumpet; Joe Ziegenfus, Brian Pastor, Clint Sharman (1, 3-5, 8, 9), Mike Galan (2, 6, 7, 10-12), trombone; Dave Cianci, bass trombone; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Mark Estes, bass; Mike Nigro, drums. Joey DeFrancesco, Hammond B3 organ, piano (7).

Title: Vibrant Tones | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Limehouse Records

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