Outback is the second and finest of Joe Farrell's dates for Creed Taylor's CTI label. Recorded in a quartet setting in 1970, with Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, Farrell pushes the envelope not only of his own previous jazz conceptualism, but CTI's envelope, as well. Outback is not a commercially oriented funk or fusion date, but an adventurous, spacy, tightrope-walking exercise between open-ended composition and improvisation. That said, there is plenty of soul in the playing. Four compositions, all arranged by Farrell, make up the album. The mysterious title track by John Scott opens the set. Staged in a series of minor-key signatures, Farrell primarily uses winds -- flutes and piccolos -- to weave a spellbinding series of ascending melodies over the extended, contrasting chord voicings by Corea. Jones skitters on his cymbals while playing the snare and tom-toms far more softly than his signature style usually attests. Airto rubs and shimmers on hand drums, going through the beat, climbing on top of it, and playing accents in tandem with Farrell in the solo sections. "Sound Down" is a bit more uptempo and features Farrell playing wonderfully on the soprano. Buster Williams lays down a short staccato bassline that keeps Jones' bass drum pumping. As Farrell moves from theme/variation/melody to improvisation, he brings in Corea, who vamps off the melody before offering a series of ostinati responses. Corea's "Bleeding Orchid" is a ballad played with augmented modes and continually shifting intervals, mapped beautifully by Williams' adherence to the changes, with a series of contrasting pizzicato fills. Farrell's trills and arpeggiatic exercises combine both jazz classicism and Middle Eastern folk music. On Farrell's "November 68th," he invokes John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things" as he digs deep into the tenor's middle register for a song-like voicing, played with a gorgeously bluesy sophistication. The other players rally around him and push his sonic flight to near manic intensity. Outback is a stunner, as inspired as anything -- and perhaps more so -- that Farrell ever recorded.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek