While Farmers By Nature is the debut of the year-old trio featuring Detroit-born drummer Gerald Cleaver, New York City bassist extraordinaire William Parker, and in-demand keyboardist Craig Taborn, it is by no means its first performance as a unit. Together the trio has fuelled the flights of saxophonists Rob Brown on his acclaimed Crown Trunk Root Funk (Aum Fidelity, 2008), and Roscoe Mitchell as part of his Note Factory ensemble as well as violist Mat Maneri's small group on Sustain (Thirsty Ear, 2002), among many others.
Cleaver was the driving force in forging the trio, whose initial gigs were so noteworthy that they had Parker wishing they had been taped. When AUM Fidelity boss Steven Joerg heard, he made sure that their next meeting, in June, 2008 at NYC's The Stone, was recorded, with this expansive collectively improvised production being the result.
Though demarcated into separate tracks this is in fact a continuous 65-minute concert. Given the participants' not inconsiderable force in other settings, their collaboration veers towards the understated, in an organically unfolding discourse where different voices dominate at different times, but with ego subsumed to serve the collective outcome.
Secure in his rhythmic abilities, Cleaver never overpowers. His lightly clattering percussion ushers the others forward without coercion, maintaining propulsion with cymbals and shakers. It's not until the conclusion of "Fieda Mytlie" that he starts driving hard, even touching on a funky 4/4. Parker meanwhile deploys the full panoply of string bass technique, and it's a pleasure to hear so much of his adventurous bowing. Measured resonant plucks at the start of "Fieda Mytlie" morph into an extravaganza of bent notes and scuttling fretwork in a bass solo replete with muffled slaps, taps and voice.
Confirming the democratic nature of the trio, pianist Taborn is by no means the amen player here, using his rippling runs and arpeggios to further the trio's atmospheric designs. As a result the contrast is all the stronger when he does cut loose with darting two-handed runs and forceful crashes as in the powerful "Not Unlike Number 10," which is the highlight of the disc.
From the darkly subdued opening, where phantom sampled voices mutter against indeterminate scumblings, by way of the probing piano and bass interactions of "Cranes" to the jazzy propulsion of "In Trees," and the emphatic conclusion of "Fieda Mytlie," this set is a testament to the trio's active listening and group ethos.
Visit Gerald Cleaver, William Parker and Craig Taborn on the web.
Personnel: Gerald Cleaver: drums; William Parker: bass; Craig Taborn: piano.