Joey DeFrancesco Interview [Listen 29:24] – S02Ep07 (2 of 3) – Joey DeFrancesco and . . . What IS that Noise?
Interview Date: March 25, 2012 @12pm EDT
Special Guest (Audio) Joey DeFrancesco (Part 2 of 3): Nicknamed “the finest Jazz organist on the planet,” Joey DeFranceso and GTV present you with an exclusive and in-depth interview, plus his full concert performance in Toronto.
Coming from a long line of established organ players, DeFrancesco started his career off as a child prodigy (starting at age 4) playing with all the greatest organists in the world. He has developed his skill to the point where he dominates the Hammond B3. When DeFrancesco was 17, Miles Davis called him up to ask him to tour with him and play on his 1989 album, “Amandla.” Since that time he has gone on to play with many other "who’s who" in the Jazz world and often being paired with some of the greatest guitarists in Jazz such as Pat Martino, Paul Bollenback, Jimmy Bruno, Dave Stryker, and John McLaughlin. In this podcast we talk about the history of the Hammond B3 organ and talk about all the great guitarists he has played with.
Mysterium Tremendum - Exploring The Vastness of The Infinite Universe With Mickey Hart
Every once in a while there are extraordinary people who come along, who by sheer talent, mixed with hard work and focused dedication are able to achieve something truly unsurpassed and outstanding. They are able to attain a deeper understanding of their particular undertaking to a point where they are able to progress, and in some cases, alter everyone’s understanding of that thing. Pablo Picasso changed our understanding of painting. Physics would not be the same without Niels Bohr, and Galileo Galilei transformed the way we look at the heavens. This brings us to Mickey Hart.
I would argue that Hart has transformed our understanding of the drums and even the style of drumming. Having scoured the planet looking for all forms of percussion, he has been able to acquire one of the largest drum collections in the world (if not the largest). Hart, an ethnomusicologist, has dedicated his life and much of his fortune to study our understanding and our connection with the percussion instrument and how it has shaped us as humans. His lifelong dedication has taken different manifestations. He has traveled the planet in search of percussion instruments, unique drum patterns, and to uncover the ways we interact with them. He has written books about people's love and connection to the drum. He has also worked with The Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute and even had a state-of-the-art building erected to store the historic artifacts he's collected in his travels.
Musically, his track record is unmatched having released some of the first World Music records like “Rolling Thunder” and “Diga Rhythm Bands” long before World Music even became a genre. He has released a fantastic album where he plays a Tibetan bowl on the sinister sounding record “Yamantaka”and even released a cd where he plays to the prenatal heartbeat of his unborn son on his album “Music to be Born By.” In 1991, he brought together talented drummers from all over the world to play on his album “Planet Drum”; it ended up winning the first ever World Music Grammy. Plus, when talking about Micky Hart, there is that 30 year stint, with that little known group, the Grateful Dead.
And now, after a 5 year departure, Mickey Hart is back with a brand new record called “Mysterium Tremendum.”
The record has just been released in beautiful 180 gram audiophile quality virgin vinyl (plus other special packages). The album itself is more straight-forward in some ways than other projects he has been part of; unlike, for example, some of his other albums which are mostly instrumental and more drum centered in their approach. Mysterium Tremendum is a record in the traditional sense in that the compositions are more traditional pieces with lyrics that are backed by a full rock/blues band.
Although the album’s framework might be rooted in rock tradition, Mickey Hart himself is anything but traditional on this record. On this project, more than the others he's released, you see Hart really expressing himself and stretching his ability and musicality in exploring time and space and going out beyond stratosphere. I mean this literally; on the record, he is reacting to the sounds that NASA was able to gather from outer space. It’s this kind of “cosmic” playing that you see really charging Hart and his playing. In parts, you can actually feel his enthusiasm and excitement, hitting you from the air coming off the speakers as he reacts to pulses and sounds from deep space. This is the stuff that gets legends out of bed ready to take on another world tour.
Take for example the first single off the album “Slow Joe Rain”, the melodic and memorable tune written by Hart and his long time friend Robert Hunter where they are playing with sounds of “Galaxy of NGC 4414”,”Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Radiation“, and other sounds from space. The track starts off with cosmic ambient sounds pulsing and moans to Hart and the band collaborating with infinite space, then from the depths of darkness Tim Hockenberry’s voice chimes in with a Robbie Robertson style delivery. Hockenberry, one of the two main singers, has a singing style that I would compare to Steve Winwood or Joe Cocker mixed with Robbie Robertson. The other singer on the album, Crystal Monee Hall, is also fantastic on this album who is really able to shine on songs like “The One Hour.” For me, she adds a raw Soul and Gospel flair to many of the tracks on the album adding to them yet another element.
Which brings me to Robert Hunter and his lyrics; which are as deep and profound as anything he has ever produced. In some ways, this is the other-worldly stuff that we would expect from Hunter in his prime with Garcia (it harkens back to Dark Star). This is Hunter with a message that isn’t just cosmic, but philosophical and acute. Take for example on the opening lyrics of Starlight Starbright (sung by Monee Hall):
Life is nothing, not a thing
Nothing less than everything
What force propels the shooting star
The blood of suns is who we are
Music of the spheres
Beyond our mortal ears
We can hear you in the soul
Where the bells of heaven toll
For some, like fans of the 7 Walkers, this comes as no surprise. For whatever reason, Hunter has had a renaissance of sorts, writing some of his best material of his entire career.
There are many standout tracks on this record, most drawing from Hart's “Worldbeat” knowledge. His years of studying drums and drum patterns with leading drummers from around the world allows him to flawlessly switch from continent to continent recalling the perfect pattern, or blend therein for each song. Take for example “Supersonic Visions” where Hart blends Brazilian, African and America Blues beats with his new extraterrestrial sounds jamming with Gawain Mathew's wah-wah guitar and Monee Hall’s charming voice. Or how about side 4, when the record goes from “Ticket to Nowhere” that sound like it could be played in an African Desert to “Through the Endless Skies” that sounds as American as apple pie.
And the rest of the band is nothing short of stellar; Hart spares no expense assembling an amazing band with the likes of Gawain Mathews on guitar, David Schools on Bass, South African drummer Ian “Inkx” Herman, and Hart's old friend Sikiru Adepoju, who he worked with on Planet Drum project (a drummer that Mickey Hart calls “the Mozart of the talking drum”). Not surprisingly, the drumming on this record is phenomenal, and sounds other-worldly on the turntable.
In summary, this is a fantastic record that keeps giving back the more you listen to it. It’s a total psychedelic record put out by a guy who literally helped create the psychedelic sound. With a limited run (autographed packages for sale right now), my guess is Deadheads who miss out now could be searching for it for years and years to come.
In the interview Joey and I talk about some great "unknown" Hammond B3 Gospel players. Here are a few that I found; it's truly unbelievable how great some of these guys are. Praise the Lord and can I get an amen?