As he approaches seventy, Art Farmer, the most lyrical and elegant of jazz horn players, shows no signs of slowing down. On this live recording, made last summer at Stanford University, Farmer fronts an all-star quintet featuring California tenor giant Harold Land, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, bassist Rufus Reid, and seldom heard pianist Bill Bell. Playing the "flumpet," a custom-made cross between a flugelhorn and a trumpet, Farmer leads the veteran group through a set of standards including three Monk tunes and one each by Kenny Dorham, Tadd Dameron, Mel Torme, and Land.
Farmer, who has been based in Vienna for many years, has always emphasized warmth, subtlety, and flawless technique over pyrotechnics and volume. He has earned a reputation as the most sensitive ballad player on his instrument this side of Miles, and he shines on Dameron's lovely "If You Could See Me Now." Land, who preceded Sonny Rollins in the fabled Max Roach-Clifford Brown group of the 1950s, steps out front on Torme's "Born to Be Blue" and his own composition "Rapture." His rich tenor complements Farmer's mellow flumpet beautifully throughout the album. The whole quintet gets to stretch out on Dorham's "Blue Bossa" and the group interplay on the finale, a rousing version of "Straight No Chaser," is as strong as you are likely to hear anywhere.
A noteworthy presence on this date is pianist Bill Bell. After working with Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Carter, and Carmen McRae in the 1960s, Bell moved to California and began a long career as a music educator. Here, he more than holds his own in a high-powered rhythm section with stalwarts Reid and Heath.
There are few surprises on this album, just altogether satisfying mainstream jazz played by some of the finest veteran musicians in the business.