Joey DeFrancesco

The Champ

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In a way, Joey DeFrancesco's entire career has been devoted to Jimmy Smith. Ever since he arrived in the late '80s, DeFrancesco was known for his dexterous assimilation of Smith's tasteful soul-jazz, and he expanded on that basic sound as the '90s progressed. It was likely just a matter of time before he sat down and recorded a full-fledged tribute to the Master of the Jazz Organ -- which is exactly what he did with Champ: Dedicated to Jimmy Smith. Working with bassist Randy Johnston and drummer Billy Hart, DeFrancesco keeps the spirit of Smith's classic Blue Note sessions alive, and Champ is indeed an expert emulation of that clean yet funky sound -- so much so that certain listeners may wonder what the point is and why not just listen to Smith's own albums. That's a valid complaint, since DeFrancesco rarely finds a voice of his own on this record, but the album itself is a good listen for that very reason.

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