Monday July 11, 2011
James Farm Cultivates Their Own Sound
By: Evan Wessler
There was a certain irony in seeing James Farm, the new quartet spearheaded by acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman, at a club called Jazz Standard. During their hour-long set on June 16, no standards were played. Nor could “standard” be used to describe the band’s approach to its music.
The most striking characteristics of James Farm’s performance were the group’s balance and tightness. Of the former, it’s difficult to think of another quartet whose members play so democratically. The drums, often relegated to the backbeat and occasional solo in the quartet setting, were at the forefront. Eric Harland, a veteran drummer whose résumé boasts gigs with the likes of Kenny Garrett, Michael Brecker, Ravi Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis, gave the band an incessant drive. Unafraid of his cymbals and floor tom, Harland seamlessly melded rock and jazz beats in a way that could only be described as “anti-kitsch”; his effusive outbursts on the snare and introspective cymbal work on the quieter tunes stood out in the best of ways. The understated, almost hesitant piano of Aaron Parks mixed just the right level of melodic and harmonic blend to provide thoughtful tonal structure for each piece. He shared pedal points with bassist Matt Penman, whose lines outlined the chords sparsely, and whose impeccable timing, paired with Parks’ melodic intuition, created wondrous tension and release. As usual, Redman’s sonorous tenor soared, reaching a climax several times, most noticeably on “Chronos,” a Parks composition with which the set concluded.
From the first downbeat to the last faded note, James Farm was tight to a virtuosic degree. This is what you’d expect from a professional group, but given the unconventional meters and complex forms of the pieces played, the quartet’s cohesiveness was especially impressive. There came a point at which one knew the musicians weren’t counting the time, but feeling it. Throughout the set, Parks, Penman and Harland created a deep foundation of grooves, through which Redman wove a tapestry of vaulting runs and emphatic sustained outbursts in the high register. In an interview on his recent release, Highway Rider (which featured Redman on the saxophones), the pianist Brad Mehldau remarked on the sensitivity of the saxophonist’s playing. Indeed, Redman’s music sense—his intuitive feel for time, melody, space and feel—is unparalleled among horn players today.
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