Saturday, November 15, 2003

B-3 Brilliance

I saw the most amazing concert tonight: Joey DeFrancesco at UTD. Joey, a master of the Hammond B-3 organ, was joined by local heroes Marchel Ivery (tenor sax), Clint Strong (guitar), and Andrew Griffith (drums).

Joey can truly be called a prodigy; he was gigging by the age of 10. His first solo CD, All of Me, was released on Columbia Records when he was 17, and shortly thereafter he toured with Miles Davis, appearing on Amandla and Live Around the World. Unlike some prodigies who start young, burn out and disappear, Joey has matured into a master of his instrument--this generation's answer to Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff.

His bandmates are some of the best that Dallas--or anywhere--has to offer: Ivery is one of the elder statesmen of local jazz; Strong is himself a former prodigy, playing professionally at the age of 13 and starring in both the jazz and country-western worlds (yes, they do intersect on occasion!)--his credits include Red Garland and Merle Haggard. Griffith is one of the busiest drummers in the Dallas area (I mean this in terms of work, not playing style) and a graduate of UNT. This same lineup appeared on Ivery's 1997 release Marchel Ivery Meets Joey DeFrancesco on the late, lamented Leaning House Jazz label; this is worth trolling the used-CD stores for, and hopefully someone will buy up their catalog soon.

The quartet burned from the opening number (a completely unplanned rendition of Walkin'). Ivery's trademark Texas Tenor sound, with swatches of Trane and a liberal helping of Bird, was a constant joy; the senior member of the group had energy to spare. Strong was all over the guitar with burning bebop licks, generously sprinkled in the blues and with more than a little of the country influence added to the mix (and I mean this in a good way--the twang worked!). His flurries of notes made me and the horn players around me fairly jealous that he didn't have to breathe while playing. Griffith was the epitome of taste: solid time and a wide variety of timbres. Even when he lost a stick during his extended solo, he wasn't fazed one bit, simply reaching into his bag and playing a cymbal mallet upside-down for the rest of the tune.

Joey himself was nothing short of stellar throughout the night. Whether it was tasty comping behind the others' solos, a surprisingly good vocal turn on That's All (evidently he's been singing on his CD's lately; I plan to fill in the gaps in my collection soon) or his own burning solos, he totally delivered the goods (and remember, he's playing his own bass lines throughout all of this!). During an extended blues run on Bag's Groove, he nearly approached Sonny Rollins' "record" (for any concert I've attended, anyway) of a 15-minute solo, and his romp on "Rhythm" changes (the closer Oleo) brought the evening to a frenzied end; though the capacity crowd screamed for an encore, they did play for nearly two hours without a break.

All in all, an awesome show. I wish it were at a bigger place so more people could have seen it (in hindsight, I would have brought both of my college combos for an incredible "field trip"), but hopefully he'll come back to the area again before long.