James Farm play jazz with the concision and focus of moody pop music | Bleader

Friday, November 21, 2014

James Farm play jazz with the concision and focus of moody pop music

Posted By on 11.21.14 at 02:00 PM

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In this week's paper I previewed tonight's performances by the Joshua Redman Trio at City Winery; the sets support the very strong record the saxophonist released earlier this year, Trios Live (Nonesuch). As I noted in my piece, Redman has frequently embraced specific concepts or sounds in which to couch his music-making—a practice the live album eschews. One such project is the quartet James Farm—a group that also includes pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland, all bandleaders in their own right. All four members contribute compositions to their own songbook, although as you can hear on the band's recently released second album City Folk (also released by Nonesuch) their democratic approach encourages a common aesthetic within each voice.

On paper James Farm is an acoustic-jazz quartet—the band formed in 2009 for a performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival—but it executes more like a pop or rock band, tightly arranging their material so that the abundant improvisation feels finely interwoven into each performance rather than arriving in strings of stand-alone solos. Redman and Parks are the primary melodic voices, and their lines are uniformly crafted with elegance, lyric generosity, and warmth. Technical grandstanding is absent from the proceedings, in favor of a meticulously forged ensemble approach. To my ears the moody pop sensibilities of Parks, however, do exert a strong pull on the overall James Farm sound—the first couple of times I heard his piece "Unknown" it sounded like the band were covering a Radiohead song—and even on pieces composed by Redman, like the second half of the gently rocking ballad "What Remains," you can get that vibe in both the melody and the drifting atmospheric accents of a vintage Juno analog synthesizer. Below you can listen to the album's opening piece, "Two Steps," a Penman tune that rides on a fat Harland backbeat and an insistent eight-note bass line that I could imagine turning up in an old Bill Withers jam—but the luminescent melody is utterly contemporary.

Today's playlist:

Toshio Hosokawa, Orchestral Works 2 (Naxos)
Chuck Johnson, Crows in the Basilica (Three Lobed)
Ashley Paul, Line the Clouds (REL
Eiko Ishibashi, Imitation of Life (Drag City)
Autechre, Exai (Warp)

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