Krakow,  November  03,  2016



Joey DeFrancesco has never, as far as I know, been to Krakow before. And this first visit happened to be a part of the legendary Krakow Zaduszki Jazz Festival (All Souls' Day Jazz Festival). Believe it or not, it is its 61st edition this year. Well, I know it may be hard to believe, but having started in 1954, it clearly is one of the two oldest jazz festivals in the world, the other one being, of course, the Newport Jazz Festival. And although, just like Newport, Zaduszki Jazz festival has its heyday way past behind it now, it still can bite hard from time to time.

Last night's gig was the case. The event took place at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology. It is a wonderful space for art and culture which was conceived by the iconic Polish film director Andrzej Wajda. Wajda died three weeks ago, on October 9, at the age of 90, but his artistic and cultural legacy will live on (also in places like Manggha).

Having heard numerous Joey DeFrancesco's recordings, I knew what to expect quite well. He recorded dozens of albums both as a leader and a sideman for some of the best record labels like Columbia, Muse, Concord or HighNote. He signed an exclusive recording contract with the topflight jazz record label Columbia when he was just 16! Well, this is easy to understand when you realize that he performed with Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones at the age of 10 and started playing the organ at 4. Now, this is pretty early, isn't it? Even for American standars.

DeFrancesco was frequently invited to record by such jazz greats as Miles Davis (e.g. on Amandla) or John McLaughlin (especially on After the Rain with Elvin Jones). As a leader he made albums with George Coleman, Jimmy Cobb, Larry Coryell, Bobby Hutcherson (who died two months ago) and his jazz organ trio heroes "Brother" Jack McDuff and the incredible, the amazing, the fantastic Jimmy Smith. 

Having said all this, I must admit that his Krakow performance was still a revelation. Joey DeFrancesco brought a typical jazz Hammond organ trio, complete with Dan Wilson on guitar and Jason Brown on drums. I do not know how long they have been together, but at this moment in time, the group is a strikingly tight unit consisting of very talented and highly empathic musicians. They mostly played originals with the quality of performance and improvisation being top notch all the time. Not only was their playing technically superb, it was also full of deep feelings and intense emotions. The three musicians remained in touch, almost never breaking eye contact. Joey DeFrancesco was often dialoguing with the guitarist Dan Wilson. Their faces expressed a surprising depth of emotion. One could easily see that "they ain't fakin' it" as "whole lot of shakin' was goin' on", also in the audience.    

The Hammond organ is obviously DeFrancesco's main instrument, but much to some listeners' surprise, he also played trumpet and sang. This made the gig even more colourful and exciting. It is sometimes said that he started playing trumpet impressed by Miles' sound during their stint together. I asked him after the gig if Chet Baker was an inspiration and Joey willingly admitted that yes, and very much so. He loves Chet, as perhaps most of us do.

And for those of you who keep announcing the demise of the album as a physical object (on vinyl or CD) I have bad news. You should have seen the long line after the show, consisting of enthusiastic fans who wanted to take some more music home and get it signed by the players before they leave.






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