Steeped in gospel grace and rib-joint grease, the characteristic sound of the Hammond organ has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Hip-hoppers, jam bands and modern rockers in search of musical authenticity have all embraced the instrument's buttery purr, percussive snap and sanctified scream, fostering a new appreciation for the old wooden behemoths that momentarily fell out of favor with the rise of cheap synthesizers in the '80s. In jazz, reigning organ king Jimmy Smith -- now well into his seventies -- has soldiered on even as colleagues such as Jack McDuff and Richard "Groove" Holmes have passed away. And though the famously egotistical Smith may not be quite ready to pass along his crown to a younger musician, fellow Philadelphia native Joey DeFrancesco has emerged over the past decade as one of the primary contenders for Smith's throne.
Scion of a musical family -- his grandfather played with Tommy Dorsey and his father was also a jazz organist -- DeFrancesco was a child prodigy of sorts, gigging professionally before he was out of grade school and tapped while still in his teens by Miles Davis to join one of the legendary trumpeter's last touring bands. That exposure led to a high-profile major label contract, sideman stints with the likes of guitarist John McLaughlin and eventually to a career as leader of his own groups. DeFrancesco's fleet-fingered leads, driving bass and crafty comping mark him as a standout among the younger generation of jazz organists, something Smith tacitly acknowledged by recording a couple of duet albums with him. Still in his early thirties, DeFrancesco continues to expand his musical horizons, playing some trumpet and singing on recent recordings, and often pushing the harmonic envelope well beyond the familiar blues-and-bop format.