Artist Spotlight: James Farm/Updates on Upcoming Artist Release

Last week, I posted a list compiling the recent/upcoming 2011 album releases. Among these album-releasing artists were  the collaboration group James Farm comprised of saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland. This collective ensemble combines a unique blend of different styles like rock, soul, folk, classical, and electronica. Although this quartet does not resemble the traditional “jazz” image, James Farm epitomizes the ever growing, myriad diversity in jazz. Exploring the chemistry between Redman’s free blowing rhythmic playing, Park’s melodically rich improvisation, Penman’s firm grasp of  the groove, and Harland’s emotional ornamented vocabulary on the drums, makes this ensemble true connoisseurs in combining traditional ideals with progressive approaches. Penman conceptualizes this band saying, “James Farm is where we pool our collective knowledge, let run the best of our ideas arising from our varied musical influences, while acknowledging substantial common ground—a love of jazz, a fascination with song and structure, an obsession with groove, and a receptivity to contemporary influences. A band where we can be creative composers and improvisers, in step with the rhythm of the times, constantly evolving.”

The idea for this band was introduced by Joshua Redman, an 11 album talented California rooted horn player who is always looking for new innovative ways to reinvent the traditional configuration of jazz groups. (With his latest introduction of a double trio band, Redman has risen as one of the leading musicians in his generation. ) James Farm was a result of Joshua Redman’s vision to play with another upcoming pianist, Aaron Parks. After seeing his trio play, Redman was inspired to gather a group that highlighted Parks natural ability to seamlessly integrate elements of rock and even electronic music into what he does as an acoustic pianist. It was not long after that Joshua Redman called bassist Matt Penman, a high-in-demand bassist, and Eric Harland, a soulful organic musician, who are both currently in the SF Jazz Collective. Although Joshua Redman had played with these artists before, James Farm was the first band where they all played together in that particular arrangement. Redman says, “I really felt like there was an opportunity to do something a little bit different and a little bit special with this band, particularly because of the strength of the musical personalities and also because the strength of everyone, not just as individual improvisers, but as composers and musicians who also had a vision for being part of a band and for helping to organize a band.”

Now, this group offers more than a modern sound and a new approach to the every transforming art form called jazz. This group has successfully defied the normal conception of jazz composition and communication between each player. Although I question some of the musical approaches taken by this group—the interesting pairing of incoherent styles—it nonetheless avoids the common criticism and misconstrued understanding that most people associate with jazz. In fact, I find myself more intrigued and motivated to listen to this group with a clear mind. James Farm has taken the “overused-jazz-quartet-sound” and has transcended it to become original, new, and purposeful.

James Farm/Moods/Zurich


In this video of the James Farm band playing, it is apparent that each musician is emotionally, melodically, and rhythmically in tune with each other. Fluid and focused to carry a collective momentum within the piece, each player—especially Joshua Redman and Eric Harland—adds their own stylization to the piece without ruining the overall harmonious ensemble sound. It is because of this unique nature that James Farm has grown and evolved into one of the leading, highly acclaimed quartets in this new generation of jazz.

After off-and-on touring around the world and various announcements explaining their plans to record, Nonesuch has officially announced, today, the release date of their upcoming highly anticipated first self-titled debut album. James Farm will be released on April 26, 2011 followed by an international tour. Below is a track list of the songs that will be included in this release as well as the itinerary of the upcoming performances.

To read the official press release, visit the Nonesuch Records website. You can also hear samples of the new album at the official James Farm band page on myspace.

1. Coax (Matt Penman)

2. Polliwog (Joshua Redman)

3. Bijou (Aaron Parks)

4. Chronos (Aaron Parks)

5. Star Crossed (Joshua Redman)

6. 1981 (Matt Penman)

7. I-10 (Eric Harland)

8. Unravel (Aaron Parks)

9. If By Air (Joshua Redman)

10. Low Fives (Matt Penman)

Shows & Events

MAY 14— James Farm @ Reading 3 /Tel Aviv, ISRAEL – 7:00 PM

MAY 15— James Farm @ Reading 3 /Tel Aviv, ISRAEL – 7:00 PM

MAY 17— James Farm @ Porgy and Bess /Vienna, AUSTRIA – 7:00 PM

MAY 19— James Farm @ Blue Note Milano /Milano, Milan, ITALY – 7:00 PM

MAY 20— James Farm @ Kaufleuten /Zurich, SWITZERLAND – 7:00 PM

MAY 21— James Farm @ Auditorio RSI Lugano /Lugano, SWITZERLAND – 7:00 PM

MAY 25— James Farm @ Sardinen USF /Bergen, NORWAY – 7:00 PM

MAY 27— James Farm @ Auditorium du Casino /Hyeres, FRANCE – 7:00 PM

MAY 28— James Farm @ La Solarium /Gradignan, FRANCE – 7:00 PM

MAY 29— James Farm @ BimHuis /Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS – 7:00 PM

MAY 30— James Farm @ Lantaren/Venster /Rotterdam, NETHERLANDS – 7:00 PM

JUN 1— James Farm @ Roma Cultural Center /Antwerp, BELGIUM – 7:00 PM


Interview: Walter Smith III

photo courtesy of

Walter Smith III is no stranger to “Jazz in Perspective”. As a leading jazz modern tenor saxophonist, his music adds a unique perspective. Here is the first ever “Jazz in Perspective” interview with Walter Smith III.

Walter Smith III

Who are your influences as a jazz musician and how have they shaped your perspective on jazz or musical understanding?

Growing up I listened to a lot of Coltrane, Wayne, Branford, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard…the list goes on and on. For every older record (CD) I would buy, I would also get something that was current as well, so for a while my two favorite records were A Love Supreme and Noveau Swing (Donald Harrison). Then it would change to Sphere’s of Influence (Brian Lynch) and Monk Live at the Five Spot feat. Johnny Griffin the next month, etc. (on a side note I have a VERY ugly/random record collection). By bouncing around a lot with styles and eras, it led to my perspective on jazz being equally accepting/influenced by every type of approach that I encountered. For example, in high school, I can still remember practicing combining lines/approaches of Walt Weiskopf’s with Bird’s and composing a gospel tune with Robert Glasper based on a Johnny Griffin lick. Didn’t always sound great (obviously) but that kind of meshing of styles really shaped how I play today.

What were your experiences at the Thelonius Monk Institute?

The Monk Institute was great for a couple of reasons. I can’t put a value on Terence Blanchard’s mentorship during the two years. I learned so much about composition from him and gained so much confidence in every aspect of my musicianship. Other than that, performing with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock on a couple of tours was also a truly inspiring experience. Words cannot express the level of music that was created every time those guys played. It is just amazing how they have so made so much music in their lives and still get excited to see each other and perform every night. We should all be so lucky to accomplish what they have and still have a genuine love and respect for playing music.

How do you approach and arrange certain pieces like “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”?

Sound of Love actually didn’t have an arrangement did it? I haven’t listened to that in years, but I am almost positive that it was just played trio (tenor/bass/drums). It was actually the first and only time I’ve ever played it and I’m embarrassed to say that I was reading it from a lead sheet. It was really last minute and I had just been listening to it on one of Joe Lovano’s records (quartets live @ the vanguard i think) and decided to try it. One take, but it worked out ok.

What do you think about when you compose?

When I compose I am constantly trying to take one idea and expand it so that everything that I put on paper is an extension of that initial idea. At the same time I am trying to create a vibe or mood that is unique to that composition. Sometimes that leads me to think about scenery or situations from my life or movies/video games to try and achieve that feeling. It’s kind of like film scoring without an actual film.

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Vijay Iyer

Album Name: Solo


piano- Vijay Iyer

Record Label: ACT Music

Audio Samples:

Human Nature


Darn the Dream

Black & Tan Fantasy

One for Blount

Vijay Iyer: About “Solo”

Artist Spotlight: Walter Smith III

Walter Smith III

photo courtesy of Richard Thompson III

Redefining a New Era in Jazz

The rich airy transparent sound is what identifies rising modern tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III. His music explores the many different avenues in jazz and introduces a new melodic perspective. When he plays, his creativity is made apparent through his ability to incorporate new musical ideas and  uncover a unique relationship between harmonic and rhythmic composition. The development of his ideas can only be described as a journey that never ceases to lose momentum.

Growing up, Walter Smith III started playing the saxophone when he was 7 years old and has become one of the most recognizable musicians in this generation. His influences include John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers and Ornette Coleman along with Joe Lovano and Myron Walden. Receiving various scholarships and prestigious jazz awards like the Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Walter Smith has traveled around the world playing at various festivals and jazz venues. As a band leader and group member, Walter has played with many notable artists such as Terence Blanchard, Roy Haynes, Christian McBride, Christian Scott, and Ambrose Akinmusire.

His first debut album, Casually Introducing Walter Smith III, incorporates a variety of original compositions as well as unique arrangements of traditional songs like “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”. No matter what piece Smith plays on, his deep understanding of swing and hard-bop creates remarkable energetic musical moments. In his most recent albums, Walter Smith-Live in Parisand III, Walter Smith III adapts a more sophisticated sound. It is evident that he has grown as a musician and broadened his musical perspective. The tunes that really stand out harmonically and melodically are “Moranish”, “Byus”, and “Capitol Wasteland”. In “Moranish”, the piano starts off with a cadenza in which develops into a song where Walter Smith III plays over a reoccurring rhythmic piano line. As for “Byus”, the song highlights a different rhythmic understanding with an intricate drum feel and playful melody. Lastly, “Capitol Wasteland” exposes Smith’s warm yet powerful saxophone tone that creates a musical phenomenon.

Whether it is playing the blues or tackling a complicated deep modern song, Walter Smith III has redefined jazz. His tender sound and mature understanding of composition identifies him Continue reading