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James Farm Cultivate Their Own Sound

Redman, Harland, Parks and Penman at the Jazz Standard

James Farm, with Matt Penman, Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks and Eric Harland

There was a certain irony in seeing James Farm, the new quartet spearheaded by acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman, at a club called Jazz Standard. During their hour-long set on June 16, no standards were played. Nor could “standard” be used to describe the band’s approach to its music.

The most striking characteristics of James Farm’s performance were the group’s balance and tightness. Of the former, it’s difficult to think of another quartet whose members play so democratically. The drums, often relegated to the backbeat and occasional solo in the quartet setting, were at the forefront. Eric Harland, a veteran drummer whose résumé boasts gigs with the likes of Kenny Garrett, Michael Brecker, Ravi Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis, gave the band an incessant drive. Unafraid of his cymbals and floor tom, Harland seamlessly melded rock and jazz beats in a way that could only be described as “anti-kitsch”; his effusive outbursts on the snare and introspective cymbal work on the quieter tunes stood out in the best of ways. The understated, almost hesitant piano of Aaron Parks mixed just the right level of melodic and harmonic blend to provide thoughtful tonal structure for each piece. He shared pedal points with bassist Matt Penman, whose lines outlined the chords sparsely, and whose impeccable timing, paired with Parks’ melodic intuition, created wondrous tension and release. As usual, Redman’s sonorous tenor soared, reaching a climax several times, most noticeably on “Chronos,” a Parks composition with which the set concluded.

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