If you were to buy only one record this year to fulfill your need for in-the-pocket, swinging jazz with a nod toward tradition, drummer Joe Farnsworth’s Time to Swing is the one. While much modern jazz seems designed for academic fulfillment or intellectual provocation, Time to Swing is a punch to the gut, to the feel-good sector of your musical cerebellum, to your heart. Joined by an experienced trio of players firing at the top of their collective games—trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, pianist Kenny Barron, and bassist Peter Washington—Farnsworth turns the fourth album of his career into a state-of-the-art outing.
That’s not to say these performances are full of showy dissertations on speed, blazing eruptions, or scene-stealing events. No, this is an album of subtle beauties, of perfectly measured time feels, of a swing pulse recalling everyone from Ellington and Sonny Clark to Basie and Benny Goodman, music that defies a timestamp.
Opener “The Good Shepherd” dances sublimely over Washington’s butter-like bass playing; Farnsworth’s dry ride cymbal pulses like fireflies on a hot summer night. Check out his adroit bass-drum accents here, a lost art of subtle punctuation. Marsalis brings it all home, his relaxed enunciations pure delight. The album rolls on, a series of well-oiled wonders. “Hesitation” ramps up the tempo and the heat, “Darn That Dream” is all cool breeze and shimmer, “Down by the Riverside” rocks like a holy-roller roundup. And lest you think Time to Swing is 24-hour Dixie time, dig the leader’s solo piece, “One for Jimmy Cobb.” Combining Jo Jones’ zest with Blakey’s fire and Elvin’s multi-directionality, Farnsworth proves why he is a modern-day master.