Art Farmer/Jim Hall – Big Blues – CTI Records/Pure Pleasure Records 7083 Stereo 180-gram audiophile vinyl – 1979, 34:42 ****1/2:
(Art Farmer – Flugelhorn; Jim Hall – guitar; Mike Moore – bass; Mike Mainieri – vibes – Steve Gadd – drums)
Art Farmer began his career in the bands of Benny Carter and Jay McShann as a trumpeter. His stint with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra (also featuring Quincy Jones and Clifford Brown on trumpet) launched an illustrious career. Next he played with Gerry Mulligan and Horace Silver. His unerring detail for harmonic statement and improvisation led to the formation of Jazztet with Benny Golson. This prestigious ensemble (including McCoy Tyner and Curtis Fuller) increased the stature of Farmer.
By the late fifties, Farmer was recording as sole band leader. Eventually, he would switch to Flugelhorn as his primary instrument. He formed an association with guitarist Jim Hall that lasted for years. Farmer became a pioneer of developing jazz suited to the Flugelhorn. He was a heralded sideman, playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Clark, Bennie Green and briefly reunited with the Jazztet. He toured extensively in Europe (which he called home), releasing new material and began playing a “flumpet” (hybrid of a Flugelhorn and trumpet). The understated lyrical beauty of his playing never faltered.
Big Blues, recorded in 1979 at the fabled Electric Lady Studios (built by Jimi Hendrix), is a unique quintet project. Released on CTI Records featuring arrangements from David Matthews, it reunites Farmer and Hall (recently departed from the Sonny Rollins Quartet). Mike Manieri brings a deft touch on vibes to the session. Steve Gadd (Steely Dan, James Taylor, Linda Rondstad) plays on drums and Mike Moore’s (Marian McPartland, Woody Herman, Al Cohn) bass rounds out the combo. Side One opens with a texture-rich version of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not”. A cool, walking rhythm leads into the initial solo by Hall. His guitar technique is very fluid and shifts with ease. Moore and Gadd create an understated, though irresistible rhythm section (like Mancini’s Pink Panther). Manieri joins them on vibes and adds a spooky, bouncy feel. His ensuing solo is nimbly precise, and very warm in tone (due in part to the use of a special amplifier). As the vibes rejoin the rhythm, Farmer and Hall share the lead before the flugelhorn solo. Farmer’s playing is both stylish and efficient. The side concludes with a slower waltz- like version of “A Child Is Born” (Thad Jones). As Hall’s guitar takes the lead, Mainieri weaves a counterpoint. Farmer (with a mute) delivers another highly expressive run. Hall develops a lithe solo that showcases his artistic, seamless expertise. On an extended solo, Mainieri gets to flex his considerable improvisational skill, but never breaks the mellow pulse of the song.
Side two has a different context. The title cut (written by Hall) unfolds like a cool/bop jazz piece, reminiscent of the Miles Davis/Milt Jackson dynamic. The muted flugelhorn takes on some of the trumpet’s resonance, accentuating a jazzier groove. Moore’s “heavy” bass reflects the funk influence of the era, and Hall’s saucy rhythm guitar hooks blend perfectly. The quintet is capable of an ethereal transition that can reconnect to the bop spontaneity. A unique cover of the erstwhile classical standard, “Pavanne For a Dead Princess” (Maurice Ravel) is spellbinding. Venturing into chamber jazz, Matthew’s arrangement is complex and inventive. Farmer embraces the haunting melody with a delicate graceful intensity. The band executes tempo shifts in meticulous fashion. Mainieri manages to drift in and out of the bass and drums with intuitive flair, while Hall excels on notation and chords. All of the musicians interact with a natural affinity.
The stereo sound of this album is flawless. The clarity and separation of all the instruments is impressive. A second disc would have been more than welcome. Thanks to Pure Pleasure for reissuing this gem.
Side One: Whisper Not; A Child Is Born
Side Two: Big Blues; Pavanne For A Dead Princess