If Captain Pugwash had had a cousin who played the Hammond organ, he'd look a lot like Joey DeFrancesco. The same goatee, tubby frame and cheerful authority are there, but he'd be sailing on a heavy-bottomed freighter rather than a swift battleship, because the Hammond is a beast of an instrument; capable of producing beautiful sounds, but a whistling, grunting bulky beast all the same, and one more suited to Cut Throat Jake than the amiable Pugwash.
DeFrancesco, the young standard-bearer of the Jimmy Smith school of Hammond-playing, is a master at using the organ as the vehicle for a fast bop line, as he showed in the first number, "London Blues". DeFrancesco, his drummer Byron Landham, and the guitarist Craig Ebner, strode on stage and launched straight into a brisk swing that perfectly captured what this combination of instruments should do. The Hammond sound is rich, almost unpalatably rich in the hands of DeFrancesco. The classic soul-funk base is overlaid with fairground tremolo, the piping of old steamers, sharp-edged trills that could de-wax a congested ear at 20 paces, full-bodied orchestral stops, and almost implausibly boomy pedals that shake the foundations and send rats scurrying for cover. Not everyone uses the Hammond like this. But DeFrancesco does, and it's a relief after gorging on this full-fat mélange when the guitar solo cuts through like a cheesewire. To complete the analogy, Landham's super crisp drumming provides the dry waterbiscuits on which DeFrancesco piles his unpasteurised fromages. Lest this sound uncomplimentary, this is definitely a feast. It's just that the most iron-stomached gourmand would need a pretty astringent red wine to digest it.
The DeFrancesco size suggests he's a man who enjoys a feast though, and he was certainly enjoying himself at the Jazz Café. He hollered at his band, exchanged repartee with the audience, and his eye frequently glinted with the pleasure of a child who knows he's got the shiniest toy in the box. That's exactly what the Hammond is, and that's why it's perfect for blues, boogaloos and low-down sassy swinging. It even worked when he strode through a tongue-in-cheek version of "Speak Softly Love" – better known as the theme from The Godfather. The other side of all this, of course, is that the Hammond is far less common in "serious" jazz. Anyone who witnessed DeFrancesco's boisterous romp the other night would not be bothered by that, though. Chorus after chorus of the last blues were punctuated with false stops, à la Count Basie in April In Paris mode ("One last time!"). At one point, DeFrancesco stuck one note down with a key, walked around the organ and played it from the other side. He even played it with his elbow. It's not sophisticated stuff, but sometimes the baser instincts need to be attended to. And you can rely on Dr DeFrancesco to write out a prescription for that all right.Reuse content