Joey DeFrancesco Trio Musical Instrument Museum Friday, August 3, 2012
See also: Q&A: Joey DeFrancesco Was 17 When Miles Davis Asked Him To Join His Band The setting for the Joey DeFrancesco Trio felt somewhat sterile for the genre, given that this style of jazz --soul jazz, as it's often called-- emerged from the smoky, steamy bars and lounges of New York where patrons would dance for hours to the groove-laden rhythms.
Such was not the case at the Musical Instrument Museum theater, though the music carried on the legacy of those earlier times. And if the musicians--DeFrancesco on organ, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Larry Coryell on guitar--gave any thought to where they were rather than what they were playing, it didn't show. The musical intent of the present certainly equaled--perhaps surpassed--the musical ideal of the past.
The show opened with a pair of songs from the trio's latest album, Wonderful, Wonderful, with "Five Spot After Dark," and "Wagon Wheels." The latter, a Sonny Rollins tune from Way Out West, captured the desert feel with Cobb's drumming sounding like horses on the path, and Coryell's guitar easing that rider into an open landscape. "We're in the desert," DeFrancesco told the crowd. "So this seems like the right song to do."
While "Wagon Wheels" was a mid-tempo song with an emphasis on the unusual drum beat and rapid guitar or organ flourishes, much of the concert moved at a consistently faster pace with massive organ runs leading the way over carefully constructed guitar licks and precision drumming. There was something of a pattern to the playing in the quiet intros, the build-up, and send up repetition, but the crowd bought into it fully. But not every song was formulaic, and several numbers seemed to glide on free-form expression from each player. This is the beauty of jazz, the ability of stellar muscians to play what appears on the surface to be an individual part unrelated to the original song, yet amazingly tie it all together at just the precise moment. Again and again the trio managed this feat while presenting songs from the album.
Each member, each a jazz heavyweight, was offered the spotlight on numerous occasions, though Coryell showed true grit and determination when his amp went out during his solo "deconstruction"--DeFrancesco's word--of Ravel's Bolero. Halfway into the song--and feeling somewhat new age-y with all the effects and airy tone--Coryell's amp went out. He didn't miss a beat on his Martin signature guitar, and if anything the now-truly acoustic song took on new and real life as Coryell turned up the energy. It was an outstanding effort that really showcased the man and guitar. A standing ovation came at the end.
While an organist at heart, DeFrancesco, after touring with Miles Davis, taught himself the trumpet. He brought the horn out on a couple of occasions, showing as much versatility and skill on the horn as the organ.
Fully of intensity, but also detail, DeFrancesco's organ constantly pushed the tempo and controlled the setting. Coryell, for his part laid out stunning fret runs and deft lines in perfect balance to the louder organ. And throughout it all, Cobb kept the steady beat as he has for hundreds of artists since the 1950s.
Each artist had their solos during the show, and Cobb's true solo came during the encore of the short, one hour set. The final tune, "Will You Still Be Mine," was something of a warm-up for Coryell and DeFrancesco. Yet, this was Cobb's moment to shine, and he responded with an 8 minute solo of amazing grace and timeliness that moved and grooved across a historical spectrum of jazz.
If there was any one disappointment, it was that the show was but an hour long. Way to short, even for the mostly gray-haired audience. However, let this not diminish the power of DeFrancesco's organ, Coryell's fine leads and Cobb's gentle touch. It was a short show, but a perfectly laid-out one.
Critics Notebook: Personal bias: Hard to beat that funky jazz sound when heavy organ and speedy guitar meet.
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The crowd: Mostly an older crowd of fans, some kids as well, but most everyone was doing some head bobbing.
Random notebook dump: It's like southern fried organ that guitar pickin' good (during "Song for Joey D").
Overheard: In the lobby: "Some of that stuff, it's hard to believe that's jazz."