With so many of the great soul-jazz/hard bop organists of the '60s having passed away -- including Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland, Shirley Scott, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and Jack McDuff -- Joey DeFrancesco has become, by default, the "Young Lion" who jazz enthusiasts expect to carry on that Smith-based tradition. That isn't to say that DeFrancesco is a "replacement" for any those greats -- who were irreplaceable -- or that talented explorers like John Medeski and Barbara Dennerlein shouldn't be celebrated. But Medeski and Dennerlein represent a post-Smith, Larry Young-influenced approach to jazz organ playing, whereas DeFrancesco remains firmly rooted in the classic Smith/McDuff/Holmes way of doing things. And DeFrancesco's soul-jazz aesthetic serves the City Rhythm Orchestra (a Philadelphia-based big band) consistently well on Vibrant Tones, a two-disc set that features him extensively as a guest soloist. While the first disc is a 73-minute audio CD that was recorded in a New York studio in 2001, the second disc is an hour-long DVD that was recorded live in Camden, NJ (just across the Delaware River from Philly) in 2003. In both settings, DeFrancesco's presence makes Vibrant Tones more than a hard bop release; it makes it a release that is relevant to both hard bop and soul-jazz -- a release that unites the funkiness of the Count Basie/Thad Jones/Quincy Jones big band tradition with the funkiness of Jimmy Smith and his numerous disciples. This isn't the type of jazz that goes out of its way to be cerebral, angular, or complex; the groove factor is quite strong whether the City Rhythm Orchestra and DeFrancesco are turning their attention to Basie's "Blues in Hoss' Flat," Rudy Toombs' "One Mint Julep," Horace Silver's "Señor Blues," or Neal Hefti's "Whirly Bird." It isn't very often that Smith-rooted organ playing is heard in a big band setting -- soul-jazz is generally a small-group phenomenon -- and Vibrant Tones is a release that both big band and soul-jazz enthusiasts will find rewarding.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2