A fun cover, with the leader posed pompously, sitting behind his drums on the front, and having a jolly good laugh at it on the back of the card packet. Since another organist, whom I remarked wasn’t Jimmy Smith, assured me that I have no ears, it’s amazing that I can see. Why hasn’t my hat fallen over my eyes? Anyway, I hardly think Joey de Francesco supposes he’s himself Jimmy Smith; there’s no occasion to compare them. Not being Smith don’t mean the guy’s no great shakes as an organist. It do, or does, mean that he’s individual. Shall I throw in “wonderful?” Why not?
At times he slurs notes, and with something attractive, like a singer’s southern drawl, he manages a remarkable saxophonic linearity, whether heating up or doing the things you couldn’t quite imagine but do very much welcome on “Sophisticated Lady”, where he is the perfect complement to Bireli Lagrene’s ballad playing on guitar. For a dramatic conclusion to that track, he suddenly surfaces, like a U-Boat, huge and metallic, or like a gigantic aqualung diver who has been underwater three minutes 49 seconds and is now exhaling and inhaling huge heaves of mixtures variously of air and carbon dioxide. The secret is out: breathing can have at least as much to do with playing organ as with blowing a horn. The track lasts for one second over seven minutes, rather than one second less than the four minutes that first aid manuals tell you to worry about.
“Summertime” begins with great delicacy, organ a while, guitar showing he recognises the theme’s harmonic abundance as he rounds off the accompaniment to De Francesco. Thereafter he is off. Endlessly fertile, he finishes by helping set up a second solo for the organist just as he prepared things for himself. This is a slow burn, each guy feeding the accumulating force. After the passion, the tenderness, and even some march time to the instrumental fade, a bit of the melody, and quite serious at the finish.
“Prelude”, for just under two minutes, demonstrates that, like the organist, the drummer can make interesting sounds with more than merely his upper limbs. Feet make music, too, and the organist slides into “April in Paris” after a percussion solo that, being French, hasn’t the temptation of the pun on “march/March”. Crisp and swinging, M. Ceccarelli keeps the meter and also the forward impulsion, letting organist and guitarist work to slightly different time signatures. This is not a drummer who ever mistakes the impact of stick on drumhead with the conclusion of a downward blow intended to kill.
The playout into the fade does suggest the organist loves Sonny Rollins, but we had this at the beginning; after the organist squeezed in under the drumming, he suddenly swelled out and there were phrases floating disconnected, fragments floating. From a very long time ago at the circus, I remember safety nets there in case somebody fell, and others which acrobats used as a springy boundary of their three-dimensional space. Some boxers or wrestlers likewise bounced off ropes, and so does this organist’s music bounce off his drummer.
I wondered for a moment whether every track began with a press-roll from the drummer, but on his toes the organist’s there at the beginning of “The Song is You”, first for a fleet solo sprinting along, and then a bout of more squeezy notes, followed by Lagrene motoring with lots of energy in the drumming whizzing beside him. Some neat interaction toward the end, with an encore collation of codas, not wanting to stop.
“Sunrise”, co-composed by Norah Jones and Alexander Lee, starts quiet with nobody taking the lead; single notes and chords come in differing combinations from guitar and organ. The nice tinkly, gentle stuff from the organ at the end in interaction with guitar has already been prefigured in the gentle passages of Jaco Pastorius’s “Three Views of a Secret”, though there somewhere in the middle its as a whole scuttled battleship, the organ surges up loud and threatening through the delicate purl. Oh! Some big emotions there.
The title track has a cool-ish, closely chorded start, and the organist often reduces to a thread of notes in the bass as Lagrene goes into some long-distance bebop, thought-music, and then there’s his chordal support for the high-speed right hand of the organist. A businesslike beginning to “La Vie en Rose”, flexible phrasing in the guitarist’s theme statement, multi-noting, doubling up on tempo and a remarkable dancing quality from the organist. He’s not quite as inventive a soloist as Lagrene, but that says nothing. Suddenly, the guitarist will fetch in a fragment of the melody, as if he was quoting something else. Inspiring.
Then there’s the stretched out coda, with exercises in playing quietly. Three masters and a perfect combination.
// Notes from the Road
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