City Folk is the sophomore offering by James Farm, a jazz quartet featuring pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland. It picks up right where their 2011 debut left off and moves the discussion further up the road. Like its predecessor, there are three tunes each by Redman, Parks, and Penman, and one by Harland. Highlights include the pianist's' midtempo ballad "Unknown," where he employs modal changes in a nearly spectral manner as Redman's horn floats through a lament adorned by tight snare accents and a nearly processional bassline that creates a fingerpopping tension. The solos all lead back toward the melody's center. Penman's "Two Steps" showcases Harland's own songlike character on the kit as he literally slaps at his snare and cymbals. The pianist's "Otherwise" commences with a funky backbeat -- Penman's rumbling fills contrast forcefully with Harland's minimal breaks and Parks' chunky chords while Redman finds the elliptical boundaries of the melody. There is a Pat Metheny-esque sense of the euphoric in the way the band articulates the drummer's "North Star," though its lyric harmony is directly influenced by his longtime boss, saxophonist Charles Lloyd. This track, despite its expressionistic structure body, offers a woody, active solo by Penman. The title track, by Redman, contains some of his warmest playing. The groove is palpable and infectious, deeply taken with spiritual soul music filtered through a post-bop aesthetic. What's remarkable about the band is that no matter who composes, the material is beautifully conceived for the band's character rather than its individual parts. No matter the length of a composition, the arrangements are tight while the focus is much more on group interplay that on individual improvisation, which suits this music particularly well. The album is readily accessible but no less sophisticated for being so. On City Folk, James Farm are as alluring as they were on their debut, perhaps more so. As a collective they deliver the very best modern jazz has to offer: a sound completely aware of and influenced by the various spectres of musical culture (including pop) with an identity that is integrative, forward-thinking, colorfully creative, and disciplined.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek