“So Near, So Far” by Joey DeFrancesco and the People pushes boundaries of organ-based jazz

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Philadelphia native Joey DeFrancesco and his ensemble, the People, have covered Miles Davis’ “So Near, So Far. DeFrancesco’s version is made all the more intriguing because of the way it showcases the capabilities of the jazz organ.

About Joey DeFrancesco

Joey DeFrancesco is largely credited for bringing the jazz organ out of hiding. For the most part, when psychedelic jazz and other types of edgy fusions came into prominence, seemingly there was no room for organ-oriented jazz. DeFrancesco challenged those assumptions.

DeFrancesco’s masterful playing developed under the tutelage of his father, organist, “Papa” John DeFrancesco. According to the organist’s website, at least one famous musician helped to shape his abilities: “…also [DeFrancesco] swiftly picked  up on the trumpet after a touring stint with Miles Davis as one of the two youngest players ever recruited for any of Davis’ ensembles.”

DeFrancesco would later play professionally with musicians such as Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Nancy Wilson, George Benson and others. Eventually, he would amass 30 albums as an ensemble leader. The organist has been performing professionally since 1980.

The work that has gone into DeFrancesco’s recordings have yielded him a number of awards from the Jazz Journalist Association and Downbeat Magazine. In addition, he was included in the first Hammond Organ Hall of Fame in 2014.  DeFrancesco entered the Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 2016.

Aside from performing, DeFrancesco also hosts a jazz show called “Organized” on satellite radio’s Real Jazz channel.

“So Near, So Far”

At the song’s energetic opening, the organ sounds more like a guitar than anything else. The frenetic nature of the playing is not always associated with organs.

The groove is that of funk or r&b. A saxophone intersects the main groove with its own rhythm. For the rest of the song that runs for a bit longer than five minutes, the elements of the soundscape sound as if they are taking turns being showcased.

After the first frenzied organ motif, the saxophone slows down and presents a few measures of smooth notes. The organ does the same, but the tempo picks up rapidly roughly halfway through.

Percussion is present on the recording as well. The drums tap and shimmer with an understated energy listeners might miss because of the interesting back and forth between organ and saxophone. The bass, too, plays a pivotal role in the groove and bringing the song together.

The overall feel on “So Near, So Far” is the contrast between fast and slow, frenzied and relaxed. The complexity creeps up on listeners, as some might think that they have heard this approach before. Perhaps some have, but for most audiences, DeFrancesco and the People’s work is new and engaging.

That DeFrancesco is a veteran organ player is clear. A listen to “So Near, So Far” is enough to convince listeners why DeFrancesco is an award-winning musician.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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