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Joey DeFrancesco, with Pharoah Sanders – ‘In the Key of the Universe’ (2019)

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Here is what magically happens when you cross spiritual soul-jazz with bluesy soul-jazz.

For his latest album, Joey DeFrancesco chose to name it In the Key of the Universe, which is a very Pharoah Sanders type of title. Perhaps that’s because the iconic saxophonist himself is on this record: the de facto heir to the legacy of Jimmy Smith features the de facto heir to late-period John Coltrane mysticism.


Sanders — like Ornette Coleman in his latter years — is enjoying long-overdue appreciation for the artistic peaks he climbed in the 60s and 70s even as he has all but ceased to record any new music for a long while. The Creator Has a Master Plan from 2003 is the last official studio record under his own name (though it was a recycling of his old tunes), and sideman recording gigs since then are few and far between. So any new appearance of the old master is good news.

The even better news is that Sanders inspires Joey DeFrancesco to raise his game further. And his combo is already star-studded: you have Billy Hart on drums, Sammy Figueroa on percussion and another ace sax player — Troy Roberts — to complete a roster of players brimming with quality.

The title song is where Sanders is first heard, but Roberts stays put, treating us to a double tenor sax attack. Sanders solos first, showing no worn edges from his pointed articulation, and DeFrancesco afterwards does his quicksilver thing. Then there’s a cover of Sanders’ signature song, the majestic epic “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” Pared down to a ‘mere’ eleven minutes, the creator of “Creator” is as mystical as ever on his tenor horn, and instead of Leon Thomas’ unforgettable chant, it’s Sanders himself singing those uplifting lines. But the song’s original drummer — who happens to be Hart — is present, and Roberts moves over to acoustic bass. DeFrancesco of course is on organ but also piano to maintain that vintage vibe.

A well-done remake of that iconic song is hard to beat, but “And So It Is” does its best, with DeFrancesco playing muted trumpet on this soul ballad to harmonize and trade solos with the old master. Ironically, it’s here where just a little of the ol’ abrasive side of Sanders comes out, as the B3 maestro comps on a comfy electric piano.

Sanders may only appear on three of these ten cuts but his influence is felt on some of the other tracks as well. “Inner Being” is an uplifting melody made more so by Roberts’s joyful soprano sax. A tabla ushers in “Vibrations in Blue” and reappears throughout, though the song quickly settles into a blues groove and leading to one of DeFranscesco’s technically astounding B3 solos.

Other tracks are pure Joey DeFrancesco. “Awake and Blissed” and “It Swung Wide Open” are hot bop numbers, pared down to the DeFrancesco/Roberts/Hart trio with the former including a surprise turn by the leader on electric piano and both featuring the supple tenor sax of Roberts. The soprano and tenor saxes that grace the sensuous “Soul Perspective” are both Roberts’, but the highlight comes at the end when his bigger sax exchanges remarks with DeFrancesco’s Hammond. Roberts employs both horns for the introspective ballad “A Path Through The Noise,” but this time is joined by DeFrancesco on trumpet.

Can both transcendental and earthly jazz coexist on the same record? With In the Key of the Universe Joey DeFrancesco answers with an emphatic “yes.”

In the Key of the Universe goes on sale March 1, 2019 through Mack Avenue Records.


Read the full piece from: Something Else! Reviews

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