Live albums are often a mixed bag, with the negative side encompassing the possibility of recording equipment problems, background noise, and the inability to have a “do-over”, something that’s always available in a studio. Offsetting that is the excitement and spontaneity that can only come from accomplished musicians performing for an appreciative and knowledgeable audience, and feeding off that atmosphere to provide something remarkable.
That’s the case with a new jazz album, Live: The Authorized Bootleg, just out from Concord. It was recorded in memorable surroundings – Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland – and stars organ virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco and his trio, with the inspirational addition of veteran saxophonist George Coleman.
DeFrancesco is amazing. He has countless albums to his credit, both as a sideman and as a leader of the trio, which includes Byron Landham on drums and Jake Langley on guitar. As with many jazz organists, his inspiration was Jimmy Smith, but unlike most he was able to actually work with his idol and even record with him. Through the years, DeFrancesco has developed his own style, borrowing from smith but adding other elements, including bop, which dovetails perfectly with guest artist Coleman.
A lot of the focus of this album is meant to fall on Coleman, whom DeFrancesco feels has been overlooked in the parade of recognized jazz saxmen. In my humble opinion Coleman does have the talent to be considered in that group. He started in the bebop and post-bop era, playing with the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and others, following that with many years as the leader of various groups, but has never reached much name recognition. He still blows cool though, and sounds as good as ever on this album.
Although the titles of many of the cuts on this album are familiar, improvisation is the name of the game here. For example, I remember the original version of “Cherokee” made famous by bandleader Charlie Barnet in the swing era, and this version bears little resemblance — it takes off and flies nonstop with some amazing solos. The same can be said about “On Green Dolphin Street”, a particular favorite of mine that’s well-done here but with a little softer sound appropriate to the song.
The album does have some diversity. There’s even an intermission of sorts — a nice vocal by Colleen McNabb on the ballad “I’m In The Mood For Love”. Pleasant if a little uninspired, but definitely a change of pace from the rest of the album.
My favorite of all was probably the last cut, the old standard “Autumn Leaves”, which starts softly and then moves into recognizable territory before progressing to some nice improvisations. It’s been done by a lot of musicians, but seldom better.
A very nice collection of music, with talented and involved artists who are obviously having a good time and are willing to take us along for the ride.
4. I’m in the Mood for Love
5. On Green Dolphin Street
6. Little Girl Blue
7. Autumn Leaves