Papa John DeFrancesco

A Philadelphia Story

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In the 1990s, Papa John DeFrancesco revived his career after a long hiatus to oversee the musical development of his son Joey. At that time he began not only playing in public again but recording for Highnote and Savant, too. That said, he’s been known to take long breaks: six years off between 1995 and 2001, and, after recording regularly between then and 2006, another half decade. A Philadelphia Story marks his return. The time off hasn’t blunted Papa John's chops, however. Despite the fact that he lives in Arizona these days, DeFrancesco’s music is pure, gritty Philly soul-jazz. Here he’s joined by his other son, the guitar-slinging John Jr., and drummer Glenn Ferracone. The program is a smoking collection of soul, funk, jazz, and standards with a pair of originals tossed in. The set kicks off with a finger-popping reading of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” John Jr.’s razor-sharp funk creates the groove while Papa comps and adds smoldering undertones to Ferracone’s stellar breaks (which are ever-present on the album). Son Joey makes one of two guest appearances with a boppish trumpet solo to close it out. A spine-slipping gutbucket version of Cream’s “Strange Brew” follows. It’s in-the-pocket, bluesed-out soul-jazz, with stinging though economical guitar fills. Papa’s solo is strong, and full of twists and turns. Joey returns on a lovely, elegant, and understated reading of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the most lyrical thing here. Lou Donaldson's hard bopping “The Thang” gets fine treatment, with a twinned guitar/B-3 head; it’s brief, yet features rhythmically taut arpeggios by John Jr. and a ripping solo by Papa. The Isley Brothers' “It’s Your Thing” really shows off Papa’s own deep soul-jazz chops; he turns this one inside out and follows it with a complete harmonic re-visioning of “You Are My Sunshine.” John Jr. does his best Wes Montgomery as he and Papa trade fours on the tune. Saxophonist Joe Fortunato guests on Oscar Pettiford's “Blues in the Closet,” a straight-up hard bop blues. The closing title track moves ever deeper into that terrain. Papa’s organ solo shines brightly in the tune’s moody darkness and is a real highlight on the set. Any way you cut it, A Philadelphia Story is smoking B-3 jazz with kick, swagger, and funky butt grooves; it marks the welcome return of a master jazzman.

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