Joe Farnsworth Prime Time Quartet

Live at the Village, Springwood Presbyterian Hall, May 4


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Joe Farnsworth. Photo: Peter Karp Photography,

Close your eyes and this church hall was a New York jazz club back when cigarette smoke fogged the air and no one cared. Lacing the music was a slight edge of danger: of risk-taking with flying tempos and two tunes the band had never played.

This was the second time arch Sydney bassist Brendan Clarke has brought out the Big Apple drumming wizard Joe Farnsworth to complete a quartet with tenor saxophonist Dale Barlow and pianist John Harkins. There are some symmetries here, with Harkins also being an American in a past life, and Barlow enjoying an august stint in New York in the ’80s, including playing with pianist Cedar Walton, whom Farnsworth subsequently joined.

So steeped in this music are they that you’d have been hard-pressed to guess it was their first gig together for a year. After two relatively modest openers Barlow played Never Let Me Go with such aching tenderness it was a shame the band doubled the time for the solos, truncating a mood that yearned to live a little longer. On McCoy Tyner’s Inner Glimpse Harkins produced a solo of remarkable lyricism, given the velocity, after which Clarke astutely pitched a contrasting bass feature of space and pensiveness.

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The potent opening of “O Come Emmanuel”. Photo: Peter Karp Photography.

To open the second set they knocked up an unrehearsed O Come Emmanuel, about which Farnsworth was semi-apologetic. He needn’t have worried: Barlow’s brawny, testifying, gospel-tinged tenor lines would have had Emmanuel just about breaking down the door.

Monk’s We See exemplified the suppleness in Harkins’ phrasing (although it also emphasised the compromise of having to use an electric piano), before Barlow unleashed his most energised playing, and Clarke’s surprise-laden solo again showed his instinct for structural contrast. Standing out among Farnsworth’s solos the We See one moved from brushes to sticks and deployed stunning textural and dynamic control amid the teeming rhythmic invention. His foray on Walton’s Groundwork was also notable for beginning with lighter-than-air cymbal melodies. His ensemble work, meanwhile, was lithe, driving and dramatic.

Joe Farnsworth Prime Time Quartet: Foundry 616, May 5 & 6.