City of Sounds
Smoke Sessions Records
Joe Farnsworth is a tasteful presence behind the kit, never overpowering, always empathic – so if you love trio jazz but worry slightly at the sight of drumsticks on the cover, fear not. Farnsworth leads his now regular trio – Kenny Barron on piano and Peter Washington on bass. This line-up was sublime on last year’s Time To Swing (which I very much loved!)
And though that album had special guest Wynton Marsalis to make it a quartet for the first half, nothing is lost when you hear this dynamic trio. In fact, if anything, I’m already more impressed by this album.
Barron is beastly on Bud-Like, the tribute to one of his heroes, Bud Powell. Farnsworth is delicate on brushes (The Surrey with The Fringe on Top, Ojos Carinosos) but always propulsive. And when you need to take a walk but still need proud nods from the bass, Washington has your back and can hold your hand on the title track.
A love letter to New York as the titular City of Sound this features a range of originals, including some written by the drummer – but never to showcase drum chops – and some stately covers (Surrey, Moonlight in Vermont, Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise).
The version of Moonlight in Vermont might be the loveliest I’ve heard. Farnsworth dabbing at the brushes, Barron stating the melody and just tinkling around the edges of it, Washington keeping them both in line, without ever making it straight.
Oh and when Joe does get to cut loose (No Fills) you’ll hear an Elvin Jones-like battery that is thrilling and musical.
But it’s his brushwork that gets me. And the closing Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, has a wonderful bass solo by Washington, supported by Farnsworth. Barron is playing as well as he ever has, all three musicians here, prolific, dynamic, and attuned to what makes a song work, to what is classy, are a thrill to have in your ears.
This is one of my top jazz records of 2021. Easily.