Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Farmers By Nature - Suoni 2011

The collective trio, Farmers By Nature, was easily the bright spot in this year's Suoni programming for me. Two thirds of the group have provided previous Suoni highlights: Craig Taborn wowed with Tim Berne's Hard Cell a couple of years back, and William Parker is a perennial Suoni guest in various formations. Gerald Cleaver is new to my experiences at Suoni, though I did see him at Vision Fest a few years ago with Parker's Double Sunrise Over Neptune.

Both sets were continuous pieces of improvised music. The first set was marked by patience and restraint; aside from one loud section, the majority of the set stayed around mezzo-piano. What was fascinating was how they achieved tension. Taborn's deliberation, working from chiming octaves towards flurries of cross-handed clusters, and Cleaver's attention to colour, dynamic and restraint, were outstanding. All three shaped the music cohesively, contributing to a whole comprised of three distinct improvisational paths. Sometimes they would link in unexpected places; each musician was clearly informed by what the others were playing, yet no one jumped onto anyone else's idea. It was the Roscoe Mitchell school of "complementary without copying." Each member had roles at the forefront of the improvisation, but I hesitate to call anything a solo. The way Taborn and Cleaver would fade out and fade in to new sections was seamless, starting from near silence and growing in volume. The trio operated on the fringes of any traditional sense of "groove" or "pocket," making it that much more effective when they did decide to sit on a groove. For the most part, it was as though any common jazz feel had been sent through a kaleidoscope and cut up into jigsaw puzzle pieces. The abstracted F blues that Taborn initiated at the end of the first set framed the riveting nature of their improvisational aesthetic.

The second set started with some 21st-century bebop. I could have sworn I heard some Thelonious Monk quotes coming from Taborn - fragments of what he was playing recalled at turns "Evidence," "Ask Me Now," and "Monk's Dream." Parker's walking and Cleaver's winks and nods at the history of jazz drumming recalled the classic Ornette quartets. After a beautiful mini-chorale between Taborn and Parker, it escalated towards an energetic free-jazz crescendo, with Taborn flying across the keyboard with his palms and fists, Cleaver rumbling around the kit and Parker furiously bowing. It was in this second set where the three landed in this monstrous groove that reminded me of Parker's previous, hypnotic appearances at Suoni with Hamid Drake. A brilliant evening of music showcasing improvisation at its finest.

You can hear a majority of both sets here, along with my colour commentary with fellow pianist/blogger/radio host Parker Mah.

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