Most of the time, the Jimmy Smith school of organ jazz has been the domain of small groups -- a world of trios, quartets and quintets that have often provided high-quality jazz on a low budget. It isn't that the late Smith and his numerous disciples have anything against big bands (many of them have adored the gritty funkiness of Count Basie and Lionel Hampton), but for budgetary reasons (paying four or five musicians is easier than paying 20), organ/big-band projects have been the exception instead of the rule. Once in a Lifetime is one of those exceptions; recorded in 2003, this 57-minute CD finds Europe's HR Bigband (conducted by Jörg Achim Keller) featuring organist and Smith disciple Joey DeFrancesco as a special guest (Jeff Hamilton, the other special guest, is on drums). DeFrancesco is the most famous of the Smith-minded organists who was born after 1970, and the Philadelphian is in good form on Keller's big-band arrangements of "I'm a Fool to Want You," "Everything Happens to Me" and other well known standards. In terms of material, Once in a Lifetime isn't as adventurous as it could have been; many of the selections are overdone warhorses. The warhorse factor has been too high on many TCB releases (how about surprising us with great songs that haven't been done to death?), and this HR Bigband/DeFrancesco/Hamilton encounter is no exception. Nonetheless, Once in a Lifetime is well worth hearing. It isn't every day that a Smith-minded organist gets to record with a big band, and Once in a Lifetime offers an enjoyable, if conservative, chance to hear Papa John DeFrancesco's son playing alongside 16 other musicians instead of only three, four or five.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson