James Farm is a relatively new quartet whose players have worked together in various groupings and contexts over the course of the last half-decade or so. Best known, of course, is veteran saxophonist Joshua Redman, who has been a fellow member of the SF Jazz Collective with drummer Eric Harland and bassist Matt Penman. That rhythm section also appeared on pianist Aaron Parks' stellar Invisible Cinema in 2008. The tunes feature selections by each member. There are three each from Redman, Parks, and Penman, and one by Harland. What they have in common is a clearly defined pattern of charting for the ensemble, and each tune makes room for solid exploration by soloists and for seemingly spontaneous group interplay. Redman's "Polywog" is easily recognizable as post-bop, with its long head, kinetic lyric, and upbeat tempo. Parks' "Bijou" and "Unravel" are elliptical ballads that could have appeared on Invisible Cinema: the former, with its lilting, repetitive melody and country-flavored chords, and the latter with its nocturnal blues tinge. Penman's "1981" features Parks playing a Prophet-5 synth in a skittering, pulsing, near-rockist piece, in which the bassist/composer and Harland push the group through several sets of knotty changes. Speaking of which, Harland's "I-10" is a fine collision course of polyrhythms and harmonic expansiveness; though somewhat brief, it travels -- by way of a sprint -- a long way between head, bridge, and improvisational passages. There's some muscular work by Redman and intense arpeggiatic exchanges between him and Parks. The pianist's "Chronos," at just under nine minutes, is the set's longest cut, and the one that offers the most dynamic contrasts: from a brooding, almost ominous piano intro, to an all-out wail by Redman, with Harland and Penman egging him on, to another moody piano shift toward a near pastoral bridge and conclusion. Parks plays not only piano, but synth and pump organ on the track. Penman's set closer, "Low Fives," is an impressionistic ballad with subtly inventive cymbal work by Harland, and Redman playing the bluesy, low-key melody on soprano. James Farm offers real compositional depth and spirited, sophisticated improvisation, making for a deeply satisfying listen and a promising debut.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek