REVIEW: James Farm

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Monday May 23, 2011

from JazzTimes

James Farm
(Nonesuch Records)

By Thomas Conrad

Joshua Redman, one-fourth of the new collective band James Farm, has always belonged to a select group of jazz musicians able to attract a broad audience without dumbing down the art form. The basis of this gift is mysterious, but probably has something to do with always telling stories and communicating the joy of playing music.

The press kit reveals that James Farm has explicit commercial aspirations. Bassist Matt Penman speaks of ‘a fascination with song and structure,’ a ‘receptivity to contemporary influences’ and a desire to get ‘in step with the rhythm of the times.’ The band reaches out to a wider world through 10 diverse, intriguing originals that boast melodic clarity, rhythmic allure and improvisational concision. There are no 10-minute wandering solos.

Penman’s ‘Coax’ is just that. Redman’s spare, clean tenor saxophone lines patiently call out an irresistible summons. Aaron Parks’ piano solo is an incantation full of provocative silences. Redman’s ‘Polliwog’ is catchy backbeat counterpoint, and it stays infectious throughout the solos. The song has several hooks and Redman sets them deep. Parks’ ‘Bijou’ could be postmodern gospel. Redman plays it straight and heartfelt and then veers into graceful motivic fragmentations.

It is not until Parks’ ‘Chronos’ that Redman could be said to wail. His articulation enables him to play very fast without seeming to hurry, and he sounds thoughtful even when he cuts loose. ‘Chronos’ does not so much end as slowly subside in one of Eric Harland’s signature cryptic drum continuums’“not a solo because it never leaves the ensemble.
Whether this quartet achieves anything like popular acceptance is in the cruel, arbitrary hands of the record gods. But James Farm is a very cool album.

Read the article here