Joey DeFrancesco + The People – Project Freedom
Mack Avenue Records MAC11121 – CD review by Mark McKergow
Hammond B3 wizard Joey DeFrancesco is back with a new band The People, a new album and a world tour. This CD finds him gently tapping the zeitgeist with the themes of resistance and liberation. The results show a great variety of sound and passionate performance.
From the opening prologue, a brief solo statement of John Lennon’s Imagine, it’s clear that this is a recording designed to say something as well as entertain. The band then launch into the title track, moody drums and brooding swirling guitar, a gathering storm which snaps into a fast bop head and we’re off. It’s exciting stuff, taken at a pace that has the musicians close to (though not over) their limits, and Jason Brown’s drumming is a key element.
The album continues with seven DeFrancesco originals and three striking covers. Lift Every Voice And Sing is sometimes referred to as the “Black American National Anthem”, and entered the De Francesco repertoire when he played it as an encore at a Detroit show years ago and experienced a huge wave of response and emotion. The People certainly give it a great reading here, with guitarist Dan Wilson leading the melody with great precision before swirling solos from DeFrancesco and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts.
So Near, So Far is a Tony Crombie/Benny Green tune heard on Miles Davis classic Seven Steps To Heaven album, and The People give it a funky, jumpy feel with plenty of grunt and emphatic snare hits, before leading into a bossa nova section and finally a hard swinging solo from DeFrancesco himself. The album also features a great take on Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, arm-waving and exuberant with a real gospel-tinged feel.
De Francesco’s originals hold up pretty well alongside this top-drawer selection, and show a composer who is not afraid to be adventurous in structures and explore ranges and rhythms. The Unifier sees him experimenting with a wah-wah pedal and producing some interesting and unexpected tones, and the closing Stand Up shows some nice fugal passages as the band follow each other before coming together. And for a while I thought we might be missing out on having a classic organ-driven 12 bar groover… until Karma arrived and redressed the balance.
Overall this is a strong collection with a great central idea, powerful performances and a super variety of tunes and ideas. If you’re thinking about check it out more closely, Joey DeFrancesco + The People have two shows at Ronnie Scott’s in London on 12/13 April 2017 as part of the Jazz Masters series, which should be a treat.