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The Berkeley Item - #271

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The virtuosic JOEY DE FRANCESCO has been charting the course of jazz organ practically since his celebrated debut on disc at age 17, in 1989. He's been a self-assured, generous, and imaginative leader whose past projects have prominently featured jazz masters such as James Moody, Pat Martino, Illinois Jacquet, Houston Person, and, especially, his late mentor and friend Jimmy Smith.

For his seventh Concord Jazz album, Organic Vibes, due out 3/21, Joey DeFrancesco shares the stage with veteran tenor saxophonist George Coleman and the dazzling vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. The band also includes Ron Blake on saxes and flute, guitarist Jake Langley, and longtime DeFrancesco drummer Byron Landham. Joey presides over Jimmy Smith's 1959 Hammond B-3.

“I always loved the sound of organ and vibes together," says DeFrancesco. “They're very similar but that combination hasn't really been done a lot." He recalls listening intensely as a kid to Hutcherson and organist Larry Young on Street of Dreams, a 1964 Grant Green album. “I wrote some different kind of stuff on this new record," Joey says. “The thing with Bobby is a more harmonically exploring kind of thing."

DeFrancesco, who turns 35 on April 10, has been named #1 organist in four consecutive DownBeat Critics' Polls (2002-2005) as well as in the 2005 Readers' Polls of both DownBeat and Jazz Times. He maintains a high-visibility international tour schedule, and both George Coleman and Bobby Hutcherson will be joining him at several shows this year, with additional dates in the works. http://www.joeydefrancesco.com

Joey DeFrancesco appears 3/10 - 11 at the Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Jazz, along with fellow Philly brethren Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Pat Martino, and trumpeter Duane Eubanks. Then the following dates kick in, in support of the new album:

3/20 - 22 The Dakota, Minneapolis; 3/25 Scarpino's, Fayetteville, AR; 3/26 Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, IA; 3/27, Blue Room, Kansas City, MO; 3/28-4/2 Jazz Showcase, Chicago; 4/6-9 Yoshi's, Oakland (w/ George Coleman). He'll be touring Europe for three weeks in April/May, with appearances at the Kaunas Jazz Festival (Lithuania) 4/28, the Cosmopolite Festival (Norway) 4/29, the Mantova Festival (Italy) 5/6, and the Marbella Festival (Spain) 5/11, among others.

DeFrancesco returns to his hometown of Philadelphia 6/23 to perform at the West Oak Lane Jazz & Arts Festival. He's part of the Kenny Burrell Birthday Bash at Yoshi's, Oakland (7/27-31), and appears 8/19 at the Chestertown (MD) Jazz Festival. Bobby Hutcherson is his special guest at the Blue Note, NYC 9/19-24, and at Spivey Hall, Atlanta 11/3.

Also due out 3/21 is the maiden release of the Rudy Van Gelder Remasters series on Prestige, with ten titles newly remastered by Van Gelder, the original engineer on the following sessions: ERIC DOLPHY, Out There; GENE AMMONS, Boss Tenor; JOHN COLTRANE, Lush Life; MILES DAVIS, Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet; SONNY ROLLINS, Saxophone Colossus; COLEMAN HAWKINS, The Hawk Relaxes; KENNY BURRELL & JOHN COLTRANE; KENNY DORHAM, Quiet Kenny; RED GARLAND, Red Garland's Piano; and the MODERN JAZZ QUARTET, Django.

The Dolphy, Ammons, Hawkins, and Dorham dates were recorded at Van Gelder's Englewood Cliffs, NJ studio, in operation since 1959, while the other six were taped at his earlier base in Hackensack (i.e., his parents' living room).

“I'm an engineer, not a producer," Van Gelder told The New York Times's Greg Phelan last year (5/22/05). “I'm the person who makes the recording process work. I built the studio, I created the environment in which [the musicians] play, I selected, installed and operate the equipment. An analogy might be, someone wanted to put a man on the moon, but it was an engineer who got him there. My goal is to make the musicians sound the way they want to be heard."

Today, Van Gelder says of these ten Prestige albums: “I remember the sessions well, I remember how the musicians wanted to sound, and I remember their reactions to the playbacks. Today, I feel strongly that I am their messenger."

Ten more Rudy Van Gelder Remasters titles will follow this summer.

Saxophone Colossus, incidentally, marks its 50th anniversary this year, having been recorded on June 22, 1956. A perennial entry on any top 10 list of jazz albums, it was “just another record, an afternoon's work," says SONNY ROLLINS now. “I'm glad the record was liked by a lot of people. It brings back regrets for my compatriots who aren't here anymore [Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins], but I'm thankful to the one surviving member [of the session-Max Roach]."

Rollins no longer performs any of the songs on the album, not even “St. Thomas," which became so indelibly associated with him. He's made an exception, however, by playing the song on his tours of Japan, where Saxophone Colossus achieved platinum status (sales of 200,000) in the late 1990s. http://www.sonnyrollins.com

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