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In what certainly must be considered a highlight concert event of 2011, Anthology brought the co-op quartet James Farm to the stage on Oct. 2, to the delight of a packed, enthusiastic crowd.

James Farm is obviously aiming toward a different aesthetic than the conventional jazz presentation. In that world they would have toured and recorded as the Joshua Redman Quartet--since the tenor saxophonist has by far the higher profile among his bandmates.

Instead, each member has an equal responsibility to contribute material, and the weight of melodic contribution and solo features is distributed in a democratic fashion.

Even beyond the name and the authorship of tunes, James Farm seems to be dedicated to a group concept of performance. Bassist Matt Penman, drummer Eric Harland and pianist Aaron Parks each contributed two compositions to the show--equal to that from Redman's pen.

Parks' solos alternated between classical flourishes and other straight-eighth ornaments--you could hear the influences of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau in his improvisations--but only as points of reference. Penman's bass comes from the Charlie Haden school, where the sound of each note is more crucial than spitting strings of them out. His virtuosity takes the road of "less-is-more." The focal point in terms of the group dynamic was probably the out of the box drum work of Harland, who directed the ensemble with an explosive precision that was entirely cliché free.

Beginning with "1981", Redman floated melodic phrases over Parks' descending chord sequence, which occasionally stabbed out unison lines with the saxophonist over the rock-ish beat of rim-shots and growling whole notes from the rhythm section.

Redman, who can play in virtually any style, was very elliptical and self-contained throughout the evening. He's got a smooth, hushed tone that feels like a direct lineage from Lester Young through Joe Henderson.

All of the members of the group kept their solos short and concise--preferring instead to highlight the many moods of the compositions themselves, which were episodic and wide-ranging.

Redman, unlike many horn players, treated the altissimo range of the saxophone without the strain associated with it--likewise, he was able to utilize racing scales and arpeggios in a very casual fashion.

Every Penman solo told a story--probing and dark, with only occasional forays into the upper register, which made those moments all the more dramatic.

While supporting the efforts of his compatriots, Harland set waves of crashing tom-toms and snare drum rolls into motion, offset by the definitive clarity of his ting-ting-a-ting ride cymbal patterns. When he got to his own solo, a clinic in unexpected and asymmetrical creativity unfolded. It's easy to see why Charles Lloyd and Dave Holland have sought out his contributions.

There were plenty of highlights-- from the rolling one chord vamp of "Coax," that elicited a show-stopping a cappella piano solo from Parks, to the sensuous strut of Redman's "Pollywog," or the hypnotic, almost Turkish feel of "Kronos."

After a thrilling 90 minute set, the band said their goodbye's, or at least they tried to--the roaring Anthology audience was on its feet and wasn't about to leave.

James Farm obliged with a slow, minor chord encore that featured Redman's most passionate playing of the evening, especially after the band slipped into double-time. Excellent stuff.

photo courtesy James Farm

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