With Joshua Redman on tenor and Eric Harland at the drums, James Farm’s quartet is not wanting for star power. The less heralded members (pianist Aaron Parks and bassist Matt Penland) aren’t too shabby either. Throw in ample interchanges among the group — all but Parks played in the SF Jazz Collective together, and all but Redman were on Parks’s Invisible Cinema disc — add in the fact that all four compose, and you’ve got the right ingredients for a formidable, synergistic ensemble.
James Farm mostly fulfills that promise, especially if the listener appreciates that the barn on the record’s cover art is a harbinger of what are a relatively bucolic, relaxed series of tunes on their initial recording. The most obvious exception is Harland’s lone composition, “I-10,” which burns up a ruckus via an oddly-metered pulse that gooses and eases up on the throttle while Harland’s beats push Parks and Redman into uncharacteristically intense territory. But much more often, James Farm hews to the impressionistic leanings of Parks (as both pianist and composer), and Redman, who has a distinctively light tone for a tenor saxophonist (almost the polar opposite of his father, Dewey Redman) and a penchant for supple, slippery phrases that are more buoyant than gritty. Fans of Invisible Cinema will enjoy the atmospheric twinkle of “Bijou,” the multi-hued “Chronos,” and the aptly-named “Unravel” — all Parks tunes — and the first half of Redman’s “Star Crossed,” which is in a similarly delicate vein.
There is variety here — “Polliwog” is a staccato toe-tapper, and “1981″ manages to merge kitsch and elegance — but the lasting impression of James Farm is one of an egalitarian collective talented and patient enough to explore subtle, sophisticated grooves, nooks and crannies.