Following up his 2018 collaboration with Van Morrison, You're Driving Me Crazy, Joey DeFrancesco returns to his own work with his quartet on 2019's spiritually inspired In the Key of the Universe. Produced by DeFrancesco and his wife, Gloria, the album finds the organist tapping into the hypnotic, deeply soulful metaphysical jazz that artists like Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk further explored in the wake of spiritual jazz pioneer John Coltrane's death in 1967. In fact, DeFrancesco showcases Sanders here on three tracks. Joining them are several longtime associates including legendary drummer Billy Hart, saxophonist Troy Roberts, and percussionist Sammy Figueroa. At the core of the album is a heartfelt rendition of Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan" off his classic 1969 album Karma, on which drummer Hart also appeared. Sanders also adds his flowing, emotive saxophone to the expansive, minor-toned title track, and the dusky afterglow grooves of "And So It Is." The latter also finds DeFrancesco playing trumpet, something he does several times on the album, evoking the burnished warmth and lyricism of mid-'60s Miles Davis. The tracks without Sanders are equally compelling, as DeFrancesco and his band dig into Middle Eastern-tinged blues on "Vibrations in Blue," dive deep into the flowing bop modality of "Awake and Blissed," and luxuriate in the sparkling soul balladry of "A Path Through the Noise." While DeFrancesco has always played with an earthy soulfulness, on In the Key of the Universe he elevates that soulfulness to a divine musical plane.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar