Joey Defrancesco, Ronnie Scott's, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Even before Jimmy Smith died two years ago, the crown of Hammond organ king had already passed to Joey DeFrancesco, the 39-year-old from Philadelphia whose style was unmistakably influenced by Smith and who generously paid tribute to him both in recordings and on stage.

There are others who have attempted to reinvent this showy beast of an instrument as something subtler, taming and pacifying it so that it can seem perfectly at home in the cooler, more cerebral stylings of post-bop. Not DeFrancesco. In almost every number, he is happy to start simply on one manual and pedals, then gradually add layers of voicings until his hands are the master of a screaming, shaking machine that strikes unashamedly dramatic poses through a tune before suddenly sinking back to a quiet, less adorned sound.

For his opening night at Ronnie Scott's, DeFrancesco led a most unusual trio, consisting of himself, drums and, instead of guitar, which traditionally accompanies in an organ combo, acoustic piano. It worked rather well. At times, the leader restricted himself to playing just the pedals, his bass line substituting for a double or electric bass while the pianist soloed much as though this was in fact a piano trio. And when DeFrancesco took charge, his pianist comped like a guitarist, the cleaner notes from Ronnie's grand serving as backdrop for the fat chords dripping from the Hammond.

DeFrancesco also demonstrated that he is no mean trumpeter, beginning several numbers with his left hand at the organ and his right holding a Harmon-muted horn, played in the short-phrased style of Miles Davis in his 1950s period.

Perhaps the evening's outstanding number was inevitably a blues, and a jump blues at that. Bobby Durham was superbly controlled at the kit, barely actually striking the ride cymbal for the secondary syncopated beat that turns straight swing into the dancier jump feel.

DeFrancesco wound the number up around a long sustained tonic note in one hand while his other built up layers of chords, eventually stabbing super-fast at the manuals, and then borrowing the bridge section from Count Basie's "Splanky" to bring his solo to a conclusion. And the thought going through the head of everyone in the club must have been the same: "It doesn't come much more fun than this."