Monday, April 26, 2010

Joshua Redman's New Project Strikes Exciting Tenor

(Note: Scroll down for a video to play as you read)

Concert Review

James Farm
a jazz quartet featuring Joshua Redman (sax), Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums)
with Anat Cohen Quartet
Orchestra Hall, Chicago
April 23, 2010

On April 9, I had the pleasure of seeing saxophonist Sonny Rollins at Chicago's Orchestra Hall and in my review referenced him as the most legendary living jazz musician.

Exactly two weeks later at the same venue, I saw Joshua Redman who--albeit with a somewhat sparse sphere of awareness--is my favorite current jazz musician.

I've now caught Redman in Chicago once per year over the past three, with a variety of combo arrangements, and find him to be a saxophonist--mainly tenor, with some alto--that while not quite on par with classic Rollins, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker (based on recordings) is at least in the ballpark in terms of how he sounds to my untrained ears.

For though I enjoy the sound of a saxophone enough that a player need not be all that acclaimed or accomplished to impress me--I'm sure a decent high school band member could--and am not musically astute enough to explain what makes Redman so good, I've liked what I've heard enough to keep revisiting him more than any other contemporary player.

Now 41, Redman--the son of late saxophonist Dewey Redman--has been a recording artist since 1993 and has built a enough of a following to headline Orchestra Hall, although Friday's show was a good deal less than full. Originally promoted as a Joshua Redman performance, with the Anat Cohen Quartet as openers, in the program Redman was listed simply as a member of James Farm, a collaborative band that "infuses traditional acoustic jazz quartet instrumentation with a progressive attitude and modern sound."

After a 45-minute set by Israeli clarinetist (now living in NYC) Anat Cohen and her quartet, which was quite enjoyable but served to remind me how instrumental a tenor sax is to the jazz I most relish, James Farm delivered an extremely fresh and inspired performance.

Led by Redman but with Eric Harland providing drumming as propulsive--and at times idiosyncopatic--as any I've heard in a jazz setting and Aaron Parks offering some distinctive piano textures, the quartet played compositions of varying styles, with even the slower ones sounding quite pleasing.

But it was when several songs climaxed into cacophonous crescendos that James Farm became edge-of-your-seat exciting, more so than almost any jazz performance I can recall and beyond quite a few rock shows.

More than any of Rolling Stone's rather nebulous 40 Reasons to Be Excited About Music--which I also decried for ignoring Broadway's rock revolution being further amplified by American Idiot (which did engender a rave review on Farm, as Redman himself has for years, provided genuine cause for excitement.

Not incidentally, rock is listed first among James Farm's influences beyond jazz. So while they are ostensibly a jazz combo led by one of today's best players, they are also another reminder that rock 'n roll isn't dead, it's just living beyond its old boundaries.

I think I would have enjoyed James Farm even more within the immediacy of a jazz club rather than from the upper reaches of Orchestra Hall, which was a bit too staid a setting for their progressive and provocative set. Redman seems to regularly change up his combos and collaborators, so who knows if this iteration will come through town again, and they don't yet appear to have an album, but especially if like me you're always looking for new "music to your ears," James Farm is clearly worth finding and following--and not just on Facebook.

(This is a James Farm clip from YouTube, not of the Chicago show, but of a performance from earlier this year. I think it does a pretty good job of illustrating what they're about.)

No comments: