Enjoy Jazz Festival: Heidelberg / Mannheim / Ludwigshafen, Germany, October 30-November 7, 2012
A sentiment shared by James Farm, the American super group formed by saxophonist Joshua Redman in Montréal in 2009 as part of his "Artist in Residence" series for the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. The band was so good at this Canadian performance, that Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland decided to keep things going, turning into the egalitarian James Farm, where everyone contributes material equally, as documented on the group's 2011 debut, James Farm (Nonesuch). When Redman, the group's spokesperson, addressed the wildly enthusiastic crowd at Alte Feuerwache, he echoed Katché's sentiment from the evening before: that crowds like this simply make a good group like this do even better.
Playing to yet another packed houseas with Katché and Wollny, the venue had to squeeze extra seating into the hall to accommodate the demand for ticketsthe quartet opened with the first three tunes from the record (and in sequence), starting with Penman's episodic "Coax," moving on to Redman's similarly knotty, yet somehow grounded "Polliwog," and Parks' gospel-tinged ballad, "Bijou."
From there it was new material from an as-yet-unrecorded second record and, if anything, James Farms' writing has caught up with the chemistry that was there from the first note of the group's 2010 Montréal debut, but which has only since grown and evolved. Largely acoustic (though Parks had a Fender Rhodes and, at times, another small, hidden keyboard that he used to create textural washes), James Farm wasnot unlike the SFJAZZ Collective, originally founded by Redman and, despite him now gone, still featuring Penman and Harlanda group that represented a modern kind of mainstream jazz.
James Farm's kind of modern mainstream possessed clear roots in the American tradition, but also clearly incorporated the broader interests of its young players, with Redman the senior at 43, Parks the baby at 29 (but with a decade of high profile playing behind him, starting with trumpeter Terence Blanchard at the age of 18), and Penman and Harland occupying the middle, somewhere in their thirties. Mixed meters abounded, with Harland's "North Star" demonstrating that it's possible to groove viscerally, even when alternating bars of 5/4 and 6/4and even if Harland took his time getting there, first implying time but gradually turning more direct. It was a tough chart, to be sure, with Parks' supporting chords almost running cross-purposes to Harland's fluid polyrhythms, but that didn't stop Redman from delivering one of his most searing solos of the set, following Penman's feature, which only served to justify his increasingly in-demand status.
The set continued with two new pieces from Penman, "Two Steps" and "Jury's Out," which ran the gamut from near-acoustic funk to gentler terrain, while Redman's lengthy set-closer, "Mister E," combined rhythmic complexities (a thematic section where three bars of 5/4 and one of 2/4 were repeated) with a breakdown into complete freedomsomething new for James Farm and, in many ways, Redman himselfultimately leading to Harland's only true solo of the set, but one well worth waiting forand which ended in an absolutely unpredictable but wonderful anticlimax, as Harland played increasingly soft and simple, rather than loud and busy. Hopefully some of the drummers in attendance at Katché's performance the night before were back to catch Harland, undeniably one of the most important American drummers of his generation.
Again, the tremendously vocal audience was unwilling to let James Farm get away with just a single encore, and so the group ended on a gentler note, bringing the energy level of the hall down as a fitting end to one of the festival's most exciting shows.
He's no stranger to music for filmswith a soundtrack to All Hat (Universal, 2008) and, perhaps more importantly, two 1995 Nonesuch recordings devoted to silent film comedian Buster Keaton,Go West and The High Sign/One Week, under his belt. But for Bill Morrison's film The Great Flood, guitarist Bill Frisell went a step further, doing more than simply scoring the film. Morrison's film, documenting the Mississippi River flood of 1927 that, according to the film's website, ..."broke out of its banks in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles to a depth of up to 30 feet," was made in collaboration with Frisell and his management, Songtone Productions, produced by Phylis Oyama. To prepare the music, Frisell actually took his band, also featuring trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist/guitarist Tony Scherr and drummer/vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, on a tour up the Mississippi River, in order to capture some of the vibe, despite being nearly a century after the fact.
The collective result wasbetween Morrison's incredible archival research and even more impressive editing of film clips from a myriad of disparate sources into a 75-minute film of power, poignancy, tragedy and, at times, even humor, Frisell's roots-driven score, and the empathic connection of a group of players who've been working with the guitarist in a variety of contexts for well more than a decadea performance at Ludwigshafen's dasHaus that will not soon be forgotten, and which rivaled Frisell's show earlier this summer at the 2012 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival, where he delivered a transcendent set based on his most recent release, the John Lennon tribute, All We Are Saying... (Savoy, 2012).
Frisell's Enjoy Jazz performance almost didn't happenor, rather, happen as planned. Due to the ongoing effects of Hurricane Sandy, which clobbered the northeastern United States including New York City, Wollesen had trouble getting out of the city and, in fact, missed the tour's first couple dates. It's not insignificant that, when faced with this problem, Frisell chose to do the shows without him, rather than looking for a possible replacement. Frisell has, over the past couple decades, built a small but clearly trusted collective of musicians from which he draws. Similar to drummer Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, the importance of who is playing transcends what is being played; clearly Frisell prefers to adapt the music without the instrument, rather than employ a substitute less sympathetic to the intimacy of his group approach.
If the soundtrack to The Great Flood demanded more attention to form than his considerably more open Lennon tribute, there was still plenty of room for Frisell and his group to maneuver within the compositional roadmaps and specific cues. Miles, in particular, was in great form, his contributions never less than perfect, while it was a real treat to finally get to see Wollesenwho finally got out of New York, making this his first appearance of the tourplaying vibes. Known primarily as a drummer, Wollesen has contributed vibes to a number of soundtracks by renegade saxophonist (and former Frisell collaborator) John Zorn; it may be a second instrument for him, but it's clearly one he's spent plenty of time with. "Love the vibes," he said after the show when, with the audience out of the hall, he was still playing them.
There were many highlights, as the quartet paralleled the film's narrative: during the humorous "Sears & Roebuck" segment where, to fast-shifting images from an old S&R catalog, the quartet swung along with no shortage of tongue-in-cheek swagger, while a powerful, deceptively climactic build came, even as the floodwaters began to subside and its full ravages unveiled in far greater detail. Most tenderly, though, was a beautiful version of the set's only cover, Jerome Kern's appropriate "Old Man River," played over images of African-American guitarists, and men and women dancing. Frisell's command of color, harmony and melody were as on point for the subject matter as ever, and now, the only question is: when will this music come out, and how? There's been talk of DVDeven of iPad/iPhone appbut whatever the format, when Frisell finally gets around to releasing itusing music recorded on tourthis will surely go down as one of his best projects in recent years.