All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


James Farm at Salle Pleyel in Paris


Sign in to view read count
James Farm
Salle Pleyel
Paris, France
January 16, 2010

The musicians in James Farm walked out onto the stage purposefully—four hip cats. The dim lighting at Salle Pleyel accentuated their mysteriousness, casting shadows over their faces as they took up their instruments. Eric Harland stood out as the coolest of the bunch in his light jean jacket and shades, and his getup belied his playing. Regardless of the type of piece being played, Harland this evening was on a relentless search for groove. The verdict? He found it.

This night was about the brilliance of the rhythm section. Bassist Matt Penman and Harland were incendiary all set long. Penman's sense of time is impeccable. Whether soloing or in a supportive role, he never lost track of the beat. On solos, he was able to find chords that were quite simply mean; these were Charlie Hunter—type lines he was laying down, and they brought out the bottom of the music in a way of which bassists rarely conceive. Harland, meanwhile, danced and grooved all night, ready to pounce on any pocket left by a soloist. His malleability was remarkable, as he adapted to every situation while managing to sound completely himself.

Harland sat down at his kit and immediately laid down a downright nasty funk backbeat. After letting the beat simmer for a few moments, Penman and pianist Aaron Parks joined in, Parks' low register vamp adding a darker texture. When saxophonist Joshua Redman joined moments later, the band embarked on "The Trickster," its haunting melody perfectly suiting Redman's powerful and heavy tone. After a fiery but short Redman solo, the song collapsed entirely into a soft group improvisation that led from the groove-oriented "Trickster" to a modern straight-ahead post-bop exploration. This is where Redman shines, and his solo made use of the entire register of his sax, building to a Michael Breckerian climax before adding a flurry of a coda as he marched off stage left.

Parks' turn was next, and his solo stayed well within the tune—very bop. Parks, however, is at his best when able to use space and nuance to tell stories through song, and so seemed a bit uncomfortable in a pure straight-ahead setting. Throughout the night's bop exercises (which comprised more than half the set), he seemed slightly out of place, never completely melding with the rest of the quartet.

The first song set the stage for the rest of the set. It consisted of roughly equal parts straight-ahead blowing session and groove-oriented modern compositions. Parks' understated vamps highlighted the latter, while Redman's virtuosity and clarity of tone dominated the former. Through it all, there was that delicious rhythm section. Whether these were all new compositions or adaptations of older ones was unclear, as the band chose to march quite quickly from tune to tune, often segueing from one to the next but never pausing to speak to the appreciative audience.

One bop tune stands out from the rest. Very concisely played (it couldn't have been much longer than five minutes), it consisted of the statement of the theme followed by two trio explorations. Parks laid out for Redman's solo, while Redman laid out for Parks' turn. The lack of any chordal backing pushed Redman to really search and expand boundaries with his solo, probing ever higher as the echoes of his sound sent avalanches crashing below him. Redman has been doing significant work in trio settings recently and it showed—it's not easy to keep sax-bass-drums interesting for any period of time. Parks then played counterpoint to Redman's in-your-face disposition. He calmly constructed his thoughts using only his right hand—once again, no chordal accompaniment.

But the group dynamic really shone on the groove pieces. James Farm the collective was on full display, especially on the set-closing "Polliwog." Each group member was permitted to play to his strengths—Harland and Penman laying down the foundation, Parks coloring the composition and Redman just straight blowing. These compositions had a little extra to them, a modernity that had the house rocking just that little bit more. The line blurred between the head and solo, as it seemed the creative process was ongoing, and the proverbial zone was reached.

This much is clear: these are absolute professional musicians at the top of their game. Every piece played was tasteful; every was note well-placed. Still, one couldn't help but wonder if there could have been more to this show than a perfectly played set. The table was laid for something transcendent, but this show never quite got there. There is time—this was the first show of the tour—and let's hope James Farm push the right buttons to become one of the more innovative bands in jazz. For now, it's pleasure enough to hear Eric Harland groove.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Trondheim Jazzfest 2018 Live Reviews
Trondheim Jazzfest 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Borneo Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Borneo Jazz Festival 2018
by Wolfgang Konig
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Robert Rich & Markus Reuter at Streamside Concerts Live Reviews
Robert Rich & Markus Reuter at Streamside Concerts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Madeleine Peyroux At Freight & Salvage Live Reviews
Madeleine Peyroux At Freight & Salvage
by Walter Atkins
Published: May 25, 2018
Read Bray Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Bray Jazz Festival 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 24, 2018
Read Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville 2018, Part 2 Live Reviews
Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville...
by Mike Chamberlain
Published: May 24, 2018
Read "Bill Laswell/Milford Graves/John Zorn at The Stone" Live Reviews Bill Laswell/Milford Graves/John Zorn at The Stone
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 22, 2017
Read "Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop" Live Reviews Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 8, 2017
Read "Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium" Live Reviews Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: September 16, 2017
Read "Joseph Leighton Trio at Jazzhole" Live Reviews Joseph Leighton Trio at Jazzhole
by Ian Patterson
Published: July 4, 2017