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REVIEW: James Farm at Jazz Standard

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Friday July 22, 2011

From All About Jazz

James Farm: New York, NY, June 17, 2011
By: Warren Allen

Pianist Aaron Parks snapped the cover photo for the debut album of James Farm (Nonesuch, 2011) on his iPhone, in a moment when the image of a barn reflected in water struck him a certain way. The image is a lovely, spontaneous recorded instant of digital information, yet it’s indistinguishable from paint and canvas. That mix of spontaneity, speed and art is a fine metaphor for the hardware of James Farm. In tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland, the band is an all-star quartet featuring four of the best players and improvisers in modern jazz. On top of their astonishing technique and raw style, there is a chemistry underlying it all that equals astonishing music.

After a supercharged debut at 2009’s Montreal Jazz Festival, most of the Farm’s gigs have been overseas or way out on the West Coast, but a recent foray to the East Coast found them at New York’s Jazz Standard for four supercharged summer nights. Opening up with the crowd-pleaser “Polliwog,” a catchy piece of upbeat rock-jazz, Redman played with the incredible effortlessness and power that has become his calling card. As the de facto leader of a leaderless collective, his poise and command captivated the stage all night long. Indeed, if there’s one knock on Redman, it’s that’s his control is just too good—it doesn’t seem like he’s missed a note in the past twenty years. Amidst Harland’s rock beats, his precise bends and the cleanness of his sound cut a soulful swath through the upbeat tune.

Part of the group’s unique sound was its incredible grasp of polyrhythm. The same underlying concept of layering different rhythms that Elvin Jones brought to the famous John Coltrane Quartet is what Harland brings to the bandstand. But James Farm pushed those rhythms to the quantum physics level, with an uncountable number of odd meters changing form spontaneously within one song to create changing musical landscapes.

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