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Art Farmer: Out of the Past

A trumpeter who always avoided bop cliches, Farmer intensified his lyricism through the late 1950s. His warm sound and his gifts for inventing melodies and getting deep inside harmonies made him a soloist a listener could identify after a few notes. By the time he recorded the two Argo LPs reissued on Out of the Past, he was one of the few players of any instrument who had internalized John Coltrane’s harmonic advances. Many players were transformed, some into clones, by Coltrane’s influence. Farmer incorporated the new harmonic thinking and used it to enhance his individuality.

Half of the tunes on the CD are from the 1960 LP called Art, half from Perception, recorded a year later. “Goodbye, Old Girl” is still a major achievement among Farmer’s ballad performances on record. His articulation, his phrasing, his intonation give it qualities of interpretation and emotion akin to those of a superb singer. Farmer’s improvisation consists only of a precisely placed run and a two-bar coda. All the rest is melody, with eight bars of piano by Tommy Flanagan, but the solo lingers in the mind. That is true of many of Farmer’s choruses here, including those on “Out of the Past,” one of Benny Golson’s most indelible melodies.

With Flanagan in the rhythm section for the Art session were drummer Tootie Heath and Tommy Williams, a bassist of unusual swing, strength and taste who seems to have disappeared from jazz. The Perception date had Williams, Horace Parlan on piano and drummer Roy McCurdy. Among the high points are Farmer’s work on his own “Ponsu” and his reflective solo on “Blue Room,” another instance of his ability to penetrate to the heart of a song.

By the time of To Sweden With Love in 1964, Farmer had switched to fluegelhorn and formed his classic quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete LaRoca. This was the group’s third Atlantic album. They recorded it in Sweden and chose a repertoire of Swedish folks songs. This little known album is one of Farmer’s finest accomplishments because of his own playing and the camaraderie and cohesiveness of his group. “De Salde Sina Hemman (They Sold Their Homestead)” is every bit as attractive as “Wsrmeland” (“Dear Old Stockholm”), which Stan Getz brought home from Sweden a decade earlier. It might have become as well known if Atlantic had given the album the promotion it deserved.

The inspiration Farmer and his sidemen felt during their Swedish tour translated into splendid performances by all four, with the leader particularly adventuresome and rangy in his solos. An album of distinct charm and a personality of its own, it is at least the equal of the group’s Live at the Half Note, which Atlantic saw fit to reissue on CD in the United States. Available only as an import, To Sweden With Love is harder to find. It is worth the search.

Originally Published