REVIEW: James Farm is "a true collective"

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Tuesday May 03, 2011

From All About Jazz

James Farm
By: John Kelman

byproduct of special event programming at jazz festivals is that sometimes lead to greater things. When guitarist Pat Metheny reunited with vibraphonist Gary Burton’s mid-‘70s quartet as part of his By Invitation series at the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival, there were no plans to tour the world in subsequent years and release Quartet Live (Concord, 2009). When Joshua Redman pulled together a group of friends for his Montreal series in 2009, its future was unclear. But when the saxophonist reconvened the group for a 2010 summer tour, its new, cryptic name reflected a true collective, with no single member at the helm.

A year later, and James Farm’s eponymous debut not only confirms the group’s egalitarian nature, but positions this über-quartet of established and rising stars as a clear force with which to be reckoned. Redman, pianist Aaron Parks and bassist Matt Penman each contribute three songs to James Farm, while Eric Harland may only contribute one that, along with Parks’ lyrical, folksy “Bijou,” represents the album’s shortest tracks, but a lot happens in the 4:31 of the drummer’s fiery “I-10.” A knotty, high velocity theme, over an irregularly metered pulse, leads to Redman’s hottest solo of the set, while Parks follows with a brilliantly motivic feature that builds in intensity, only to soar even higher, as the pianist returns briefly to Harland’s theme before joining the drummer for a quirky ostinato, driving it to a fever-pitched climax and ending, as Redman’s tenor reaches for the stratosphere. It’s the closest any acoustic quartet has come to approximating the alt-rock energy of groups like Radiohead.

The rock references continue on Redman’s “If By Air,” where Parks’ introductory blend of Hammond Home Organ and pump organ is redolent of Soft Machine’s Third (Sony, 1970)—keyboardist Mike Ratledge’s “Out-Bloody-Rageous,” specifically—but once the band enters it’s back to an all-acoustic environs, with a prismatic solo from Penman who, like Harland, solos less frequently than Parks and Redman, but is no less distinctive for it, or equal in his relevancy to James Farm’s sounds.

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