Do a search for James Farm on Google and you’ll find the as-yet-unrecorded jazz quartet’s MySpace page, a YouTube video from its first-ever performance, a couple of concert reviews—and a link to the Missouri birthplace of Wild West gunman Jesse James.
This gives saxophonist Joshua Redman something to aspire to.
“We hope to be overtaking the Jesse James Farm in hits in the next decade,” he says wryly, calling from his San Francisco home. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
He’s a funny guy, Redman. As an interview subject, he can be frustratingly opaque, resolutely refusing to discuss how James Farm got its moniker—“It has some significance to us, but in the end it’s just a name”—and evading the question of what he, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland each bring to their new endeavour. But he’s happy to discuss why the four musicians got together, which has a lot to do with Parks’s 2008 Blue Note release Invisible Cinema.
“When I heard it, I was completely blown away,” Redman reports. “It was one of those albums that I just couldn’t stop listening to, so I got in contact with him. It was like, ”˜Hey, man, let’s put a band together!’?”
The two had never shared a stage, but they had shared the James Farm rhythm section: Penman and Harland played on Invisible Cinema, and with Redman in the all-star SFJAZZ Collective. The saxophonist stresses, however, that James Farm is not a new incarnation of any of their previous projects.
“Everybody in this band is a composer,” he says, “and all the decisions are made collectively. The sound of the band, the direction that each performance takes, the set list: they’re all determined equally by us as band members.”
What mainly sets this still-developing ensemble apart, though, is that all four musicians agree that mere virtuosity is not their primary aim.
“It can be very easy to get lost in the formal elements of the music and to forget that, ultimately, these structures exist only as a means to an end,” Redman explains. “And for the musicians in this band, the end is communication. It’s about trying to say something that’s creative and genuine and heartfelt—and, yes, intelligent.
“From the moment we started playing together, that was our shared value,” he adds. “That’s why we’re sticking with this band.”
James Farm plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday (June 25).