Improvised music supergroup Farmers By Nature was destined to be special just from the presence of its esteemed participants Gerald Cleaver (drums), Craig Taborn (piano) and William Parker (double bass), but the success they’ve had in recognition comes by not resting on their reputations. The ‘whole being greater than the sum of its parts’ found on both their 2009 debut album and 2011’s Out of This World’s Distortions was achieved from the unselfish unity required to do that.
The third Farmers By Nature offering — out August 12, 2014, from AUM Fidelity — doesn’t change the script from the prior two LP’s; no need to do that when the script is to use surprise and ingenuity to connect to its audience. Love And Ghosts does return to the live format of the self-titled debut, but this time, devotes a disc to each of two performances made in France in 2011, one in Marseille and another one in Besançon the following day.
Truly a democratic musical commune, Farmers By Nature must live by this creed that goes “nobody sounds good unless everybody sounds good,” and at no given point when one person is doing something standout there isn’t the other two giving their best effort to make that moment special.
Most of Disc 1 is really one long group improv piece artificially broken up into four parts to highlight the major developments in this single performance. “Love and Ghosts” features some of Parker’s better pizzicato bass performances in recent times, and Taborn’s angular phrasing alongside Parker shows exceptional empathy. Parker returns the favor as Taborn gradually assumes the lead role. Cleaver serves as a facilitator of both, using his tom-toms to support the bottom end percussion in such a way that it merges with Parker’s rumblings, and his cymbals to add color splashes to the overall sound. “Without A Name” find sublimity in a barren landscape: Cleaver’s creative hand percussion is briefly supported by just a three note figure from Parker, and both reach for odd sounds from their respective instruments to hold interest before Parker scrapes out notes that follow the lean groove.
The music gets nice and liquid on “Aquilo,” Parker’s bowed bass meting out longer chords and Taborn playing voluminous trills. Later on, the three improvise on separate, discreet streams but interestingly, they remain well attuned to each other. Gradually, the three sounds blend in together until it becomes a solid-state force. “Seven Years” is launched by another one of Parker’s otherworldly bass statements, but Cleaver’s clanging on a cymbal sends the song off on another direction, culminating in a thick, busy ruckus that evaporates away. What’s left is Cleaver soloing with restraint and deftly using silence spaces for greater impact.
“Massalia” stands apart from the other four tracks of the Marseille performance, and in the beginning, Taborn drops hints of some unidentified standards ballad, but the three soon move further out into the abstract even as the pianist retains that classic sentiment in his playing. The three speed up until the song achieves bebop tempo, but Taborn’s chords are delineating jazz that’s much further out.
The Besançon show starts tenderly with Taborn’s solemn ruminations for the first few minutes of “The Green City.” That’s followed by Parker’s own ruminations with random punctuations by Cleaver. “Bisanz” gathers steams and takes shape over the course of its twenty-one minutes, largely because Cleaver’s sophisticated kit work is the pulse that propels it forward. “Comté” is a steadfastly repeating figure on piano but Cleaver and Parker meanwhile play without constraints. “Castle #2” finds Taborn darting around like a tense cottontail rabbit, and the rhythm section responds in lock step to his every unforeseen move.
“Les Flâneurs” ends the Besançon performance in the same tender manner as it began, with sparse notes from Taborn and low-key support from Cleaver and Parker.
Love And Ghosts is nearly two hours and fifteen minutes of improv. That’s a lot of improv, but the music always seems to be headed somewhere, and each repeat listen unveils something new. Those kinds of things are tough to achieve with even premeditated composing, but Cleaver, Taborn and Parker are so accustomed to composing as they proceed along, it’s second nature to them. Farmers By Nature reaped a bountiful harvest in France.