It was inevitable: The godfather of the jazz organ going mano a mano with one of his most prominent and devoted disciples. Appropriately, the summit meeting — a preview of an upcoming encounter on CD, “Legacy” (due from Concord in February) — took place in a club, the natural habitat of soul-jazz trios. And the disciple, who is young enough to be the master’s grandson, was understandably awed but never intimidated.
It used to be said that Joey De Francesco was a brilliant clone of Jimmy Smith; yet when heard side by side, the differences are there. One was obvious: On this occasion, the two were using different instruments, Smith a classic old wood-cased Hammond B-3 and De Francesco a much-lighter, sleeker Hammond New B-3 that the venerable company has been circulating recently.
Also, Smith didn’t use the bass pedals in this set, leaving that to De Francesco.
De Francesco is a busier player than Smith these days, more glib and complex in his lightning runs, yet also using space between the notes very efficiently, coaxing a brighter tone from the instrument.
Smith, who has turned in some erratic live dates in recent years, was on his game in the second set Saturday night, three days after his 79th birthday.
Growling audibly all the way, he seemed to make love to the organ with smooth, mellow, effortlessly funky trademark lines on “Love for Sale” and his signature blues, “Back at the Chicken Shack.”
It was especially touching to hear the two organists go at “Satin Doll,” bearing in mind a classic treatment Smith laid down on mid-’60s Verve album “Organ Grinder’s Swing.” De Francesco faithfully traced around the lines of Smith’s original recorded solo, right down to the pulsating section that uses a Leslie speaker. Smith took it from there, rippling the arpeggios with a more relaxed yet more insistent swinging feeling.
And then Smith was gone, leaving the pumped De Francesco spinning away in overdrive, with his guitarist Steve Cotter and drummer Ramon Banda hustling to keep up. Elsewhere, De Francesco’s trio could be heard bracketing the set with agreeable soul-jazz treatments of “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.”