It was the opening night of the Festival, and our host reminded us that we were being treated to not one, but two jazz supergroups. James Farm was formed in 2009 by saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Aaron Parks, and amazingly, they were making their first appearance as a band in the UK. The band released their second album, City Folk, in 2014. British prog jazz band, Partisans - which is co-led by guitarist Phil Robson and saxophonist Julian Siegel - have been on the scene for almost twenty years. They released their highly-acclaimed fifth album, Swamp, last year.
Partisans took to the stage first, and jokingly reminded the audience that they were a rock band, not a jazz band. The sound was a little muddy for the first two tracks, Robson's guitar lost in the mix, but this was soon rectified. The title track of their last album was one of the highlights, the guitar now sounding dark and ominous, whilst Siegel floated through the darkness, producing moments of real beauty. Mickey was also a stand-out, Robson producing a fine solo over Caldererazzo's relentless drumming. Time was limited, sadly, so we had no time to hear Siegel on bass clarinet this time around. A pity, but Partisans won over the audience, and gained some new fans in the process.
Pianist Aaron Parks was in the UK last month on a solo tour, and returned with James Park, which takes its name from the first letter of the first name of each of the band's members. The idea, perhaps, is to demonstrate that this is very much a band, rather than a solo vehicle for saxophonist Joshua Redman, and it is worth noting that bass player Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland are both fine composers in their own right, as well as being a superb rhythm section.
The set opened with Two Steps, the opening track off City Folk, which opens with a funky beat from Penman and Harland, before Parks joined on piano. Redman was on fine form, his playing as sharp as his suit, producing long, clean lines on his solo that produced a roar from the crowd. If By Air, from the band's debut album, opened with a lengthy improvisation from the band, who were constantly exchanging glances, looking to play off one another, before the tune gradually emerged.
By the time the band got to City Folk, a composition by Redman, the band was really hitting its stride. Parks threw his jacket to the floor, and rolled up his sleeves, and Redman was not far behind, but took more care to lay his suit jacket on the stool at the side of the stage. Penman was also starting to feel the heat, his hair hanging over his eyes as he played. Only Harland looked unruffled, despite feeding the band a constant stream of idea with his subtle but inventive drumming.
Farms, a ballad by Aaron Parks, was superb, his solo warmly received, whilst Aspirin, by Penman, saw the pianist switch to Fender Rhodes for a fine slice of jazz-funk. Redman claimed the band had saved the best until last, and introduced North Star, a fine composition by drummer Eric Harland. As the tune built to an impressive climax, Redman and Parks traded lines, Redman going into a jerky dance, lifting a leg off the floor as he played.
The band returned for a well-deserved encore, Redman promising they would return to London before long. A colleague from the London Jazz Meetup raved over the gig as we waited for the band to sign copies of their CDs, claiming it was in the top ten gigs he's seen this year, and it was hard to argue with him. But with gigs coming up this week with Cecile McLorin Salvant, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott and Keith Jarrett - to name but a few - will it stay in the top ten? Only time will tell.
Next stop for Kind Of Jazz: Cecile McLorin Salvant. Watch this space...