Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


March/April 2013: Freddy Cole

James Farm

Written by:

Impressionist painters of the late 19th-century implemented pure colours, organic brush strokes, and an open visual conception to bring their canvas to life. To more accurately and effectively capture the nuance of their surroundings, these artists began to work outdoors when painting landscapes, as opposed to working in a studio. This practice is known as painting en plein air—literally “in the open air”.

All-star quartet James Farm calls on that sense of artistic intimacy with their 2011 eponymous debut album on Nonesuch Records. The group features four world-renowned artists: saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland. Each member brings his own distinct musical concept to the recording while creating an equally unified group sound.

Redman brought the group together for a performance in the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival, but they had already performed and recorded together extensively in different configurations. While it was originally billed as a one-time performance, the group reunited for a 2010 tour and hasn’t looked back since.

Their recording features compositions by every member of the group, with Penman’s mystical composition “Coax” serving as the opening track. “Coax” takes the listener on a musical journey, showcasing Parks’ work on the grand piano, tack piano, and Prophet-5 synthesizer. Parks continually draws from his seemingly endless palette of colours throughout the album, also utilizing the pump organ, celeste, Fender Rhodes, and Hammond Home Organ.

Parks’ fiery, odd-meter work “Chronos” is a definite highlight, and his dreamy composition “Bijou” evokes a sense of weightlessness, like floating amongst the clouds in a Monet landscape painting. Bassist Penman provides each of these tracks with a solid foundation to build on while constantly interacting, showing why he is the unsung hero of the album.

From the initial statement of its simple yet memorable melody, Redman’s “Polliwog” continually builds, evoking a sense of urgency. Drummer Harland truly shines on this track. His ability to bring a wide variety of influences to the music while giving odd meters a sense of controlled fluidity is truly astounding.

As Monet did in his paintings, James Farm captures the nuance and spirit of their musical surroundings, organically blending each of their diverse musical voices to create a colourful mosaic — music en plein air. I truly hope that Winnipeg gets to experience this extraordinary group in the near future.


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