Truly improvised music is, like the depths of the great oceans, a place where few have really ventured, and it remains a largely unexplored world. On Farmers by Nature pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist William Parker are like cartographers of the unknown, diving deep into the world of improvised music. Guided by each others' rhythms, their ear is their compass, plotting a course through unfamiliar soundscapes which can be both intimidating and awe-inspiring.
So tentatively does the music unfold at first, it is almost as if a breeze has brushed Cleaver's drum kit and made Parker's bass strings thrum. Cleaver's quietly busy manipulation of the surfaces, edges and recesses of his kit gradually brings their different textures alive, below and above the bass pulse of Parker, which seems to act as signal to Taborn. Momentum builds slowly and powerfully, and as Taborn's single notes change to bolder chords and short melodic statements, so too the language of Cleaver and Parker gains in sureness. Dissonant, angular piano clusters are partnered by Cleaver's bowed bass playing and Parker's subtleties behind the kit.
Around fifteen minutes into this hour-long live improvisation, the initial tentativeness has been cast aside, and Taborn's heavy bottom chords are supplemented by jagged right hand exclamations as the all-round intensity increases. There's a very natural ebb and flow to the music, and the trio's strong voice becomes a whisper in stages. At the end of the segment titled "Cranes," Parker's bowed bass sounds like some strange creature of the sea, and the others seem compelled to listen to its story. Once finished Cleaver, minus sticks, conducts the drum kit as the bass pulse returns, propelling lightening two-handed runs from Taborn which become ever more urgent and pounding, bringing to mind the Charles Bukowski title: "Play the piano drunk like a percussion instrument until the fingers begin to bleed a bit"it's heady stuff. Cleaver's sticks command dramatic, punchy rolls from the kit, and his cymbals sound like inhalations and exhalations of breath.
From the embers of one segment surge the flames of the next, and "Not Unlike Number 10" sees more of Taborn's distinctive piano playing; staccato phrases, jabbed notes, fast little flurries, and repeated motifs. And once again, silence gradually emerges. From this place, Parker's bass gently rumbles, accompanied ever so subtly by Parker on shakers; the music is all about forward motion, and this segment too gathers force, with each musician driving the others on, each leading the way and each following the lead simultaneously.
To enter into a place where this type of bold, creative music is possible requires fearlessness and a complete trust in one another; Taborn, Cleaver and Parker clearly have both in abundance. That a category for "Best Improvised Performance" doesn't usually feature in jazz awards may support an assumption that improvisation is an inherent part of all jazz, but that's only really true for a small number of artists. Farmers by Nature makes that abundantly clear.
Personnel: Gerald Cleaver: drums; William Parker: bass; Craig Taborn: piano.