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It’s an understatement to call Joey DeFrancesco his generation’s pre-eminent Hammond B-3 organist. For 30 years, he’s carried the torch of soul jazz into a contemporary framework, even when collaborating with Van Morrison or interpreting the music of Michael Jackson. On his latest project he’s reaching for something deeper, with a record that takes inspiration from the spiritual jazz of the 1970s from the likes of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.
Troy Roberts’ lilting soprano lines carry the opener “Inner Being,” a gently gliding track that’s right in DeFrancesco’s wheelhouse. But things quickly take a turn to the metaphysical on “Vibrations in Blue.” The pieces opens with DeFrancesco and Roberts trading lines over a droning organ, bringing to mind Alice Coltrane’s Indian-inspired explorations, before settling into a hard-swinging, soulful groove carried by Roberts’ growling tenor phrases.
It’s appropriate that Sanders himself appears on three tracks, as well as drummer Billy Hart, a former Sanders collaborator. It’s also fitting that the album’s centerpiece is an update of Sanders’ classic “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” which he first recorded 50 years ago. Though decidedly shorter than the 32-minute original (on which Hart played drums), this 11-minute version beautifully captures its sense of mystery and search for fulfillment. Roberts plays the famous four-note vamp on acoustic bass, while Sanders’ tenor lines alternately suggest prayer, meditation and ecstasy.
Another highlight is the appropriately titled “A Path Through the Noise,” a late-night slow burner, with Roberts’ liquid tenor lines floating on top of DeFrancesco’s shimmering chords. But this record isn’t all meditative modes; DeFrancesco can’t help but swing, and he does easily on the bebop inspired “Awake and Blissed” and “It Swung Wide Open.”
With this amiable set, DeFrancesco expands his palette while remaining true to his well-established reputation. Go ahead, spend an hour with this record while contemplating the mysteries of the universe.—John Frederick Moore
Featured photo by Michael Woodall.