Dr. Dave’s Reviews
The Hammond B-3 organ swept jazz during the 1960s and early 1970s. Originally manufactured in 1935 as a less expensive alternative to the pipe organ in churches, the B-3 fittingly became the instrument of choice for a series of jazz artists who projected a soulful sound. Headed by Jimmy Smith, a cadre of Hammond B-3 specialists contributed heavily to the “soul jazz” of the 1960s and included “Brother” Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Jimmy McGriff.
Joey Defrancesco continues the B-3 tradition. He got his start at the age of 5 in Philadelphia, playing the Hammond B-3 organ in the style of his hero, Jimmy Smith. He won a Thelonious Monk International Piano competition and then joined Miles Davis on the road. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Defrancesco almost single-handedly resurrected interest in the use of the B-3 organ in jazz.
For this date, oddly titled Plays Sinatra His Way (High Note Records, HLP 7105, 180 gram vinyl, recorded August 5, 1998 and released 2004), Defrancesco elicits the help of soulful sax veteran Houston Person and gutsy guitarist Melvin Sparks. He kicks off side one with a greasy, bop rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You.” He follows with a blues-inflected “Teach Me Tonight,” which features the smooth, soul-drenched, bop-driven tenor sax of Person and a rather restrained Sparks on guitar. He completes side one with “What’s New” with Person’s full-bodied sax and Joey D’s solos, which atypically sometimes degenerate from his single-note approach to grating, carnival-sounding chords.
Side two begins with “Witchcraft,” featuring some swinging, bop-infected work by Defrancesco, and represents a highlight of the album. The earthy, breathy sax of Houston Person makes “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” soar with help from the organist who adds bluesy, remarkable improvisations to the swinging mix. The set ends with a version of “Angel Eyes,” which again showcases Person’s gritty saxophone and Defrancesco’s blues-based, rapid-fire solos. Byron Landham anchors the band with his steady drumming.
Engineered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, Plays Sinatra His Way demonstrates the vitality of the B-3 for jazz improvisation and will surprise the organ-phobes. In the hands of Joey Defrancesco, the B-3 becomes a vehicle for jazz creativity. Rating: 7
Dr. Dave Szatmary
Author, Rockin’ In Time
10 to 9 Classic album
8 to7 Great record
6 to 5 Solid effort
4 to 3 Fans will like it
2 to 0 Avoid at all costs