Possibly better-appreciated in the latter period of his life and after his death, Art Farmer, along with Clark Terry, was instrumental in bringing the flugelhorn, a mellow cousin of the trumpet, to the fore. Appearing on literally hundreds of recordings and releasing over seventy albums under his own name, he may have been the perfect definition of the journeyman musicianwell-known in music circles, but a name that tended to elude the larger record-buying public for many years. Still, with a lyrical style that set him apart from many of his stratosphere-reaching contemporaries, Farmer has aged incredibly well in retrospect.
Yesterday's Thoughts is part of the fledgling Test of Time record label's commitment to making recordings, originally released by the Japanese East Wind Music label in the '70sand previously only available as expensive import LPsaccessible to North American audiences. Like the first two releases on the labelAndrew Hill's Hommage and the Great Jazz Trio's At the Village VanguardYesterday's Thoughts has been remastered using the Direct Stream Digital process (DSD), and the result is a sound that as closely resembles what the musicians heard in the studio control room as is possible.
With an all-star cast featuring pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Billy Higgins, this outing may be identified by the liner notes as a ballad recording, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The opening track, Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, does set the pace for a relaxed session, and the Benny Golson title track is a tender piece indeed; but there's plenty of variety on the date, from the medium-tempo bossa of Jobim's "How Insensitive to the at-ease swing of Mercer/DePaul's "Namely You and Dietz/Schwartz's "Alone Together, plus the more energetic Walton original "Firm Roots.
What makes the whole session sound so effortless may be the behind-the-beat approach of virtually everyone on the session. Farmer may demonstrate the most laid-back phrasing this side of Dexter Gordon, with Walton, Jones, and Higgins following close behind. And the sense of swing is unassailable; even on the two ballads there's that indefinable quality that makes everything dance. Walton's lightly funky bop approach lends a brighter element to an otherwise soft and mellow session. Even when the group takes off, as it does on "Firm Roots, there's a complete lack of anything resembling an edge, with Higgins' touch in particular feeling gentler than usual.
Easy on the ears, Yesterday's Thoughts captures Farmer at particularly busy time in his careerduring '76 and '77 he'd release no fewer than six albums under his own name. But in Farmer's case, boosting quantity didn't mean sacrificing quality, and Yesterday's Thoughts is a welcome addition to the Farmer back catalogue: an album that, in its own quiet way, reaffirms Farmer's strength as a rich-toned, melodic player who may only be receiving his proper due retrospectively.
Personnel: Art Farmer (flugelhorn), Cedar Walton (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)