Jazz “supergroups” tend to have more staying power than their rock counterparts, perhaps because jazz is a more “cooperative” affair. Case in point: James Farm, a foursome of young jazz musicians who played on several of each others’ albums and eventually came together as a unit. Perhaps they’re just from a generation of jazz musicians that’s unencumbered by elitist snobbery, or they’re used to performing empathetically, rather than coalescing around a leader.
In fact, each member is a leader in his own right: Joshua Redman, tenor and soprano saxophones; Aaron Parks, keyboards; Matt Penman, acoustic bass; and Eric Harland, drums. (All except Parks have been affiliated with the SFJazz Collective). All contributed compositions to the group’s debut, whose ten tracks range from four to nine minutes in length, so there’s no noodling and doodling. Redman’s “Star Crossed” begins as a pensive, wistful ballad, then changes gears halfway through. Redman goes from bluesy melancholy to a driving, wailing, old-school R&B-flavored groove. Parks’ piano is sublimely lyrical and Harland’s drums crack like fireworks. “I-10” would be a brisk slice of swinging hard bop but for the drum ‘n’ bass-like rhythms way down below, Parks’ spiky free flurries, and a section where Redman’s sax sounds as though it’s channeled through a transatlantic phone line. The more tradition-minded will be on cloud nine with the churning bop of “If By Air,” Redman’s muscular sax careening joyously à la Wayne Shorter‘s 1960s Blue Note recordings. James Farm is that rare work where creativity and user-friendliness are intertwined — highly recommended, and not only to jazz-heads. (Nonesuch)