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Joe Farnsworth | “Time to Swing” | Available September 18 via Smoke Sessions Records

Joe Farnsworth Brings Together an All-Star Quartet for Time To Swing, the Renowned Drummer’s Debut Release for Smoke Sessions Records
Due Out September 18, 2020, Time To Swing

Reunites the Drummer with Jazz Icon Wynton Marsalis, Along With Legendary Pianist Kenny Barron and Consummate Bassist Peter Washington

Showtime. The crack of a stick, signaling the downbeat and instigating that magical moment when years of practice, weeks of preparation and hours of gathering and waiting all transform into the alchemy of music. It’s that elusive feeling that Joe Farnsworth set out to capture on his latest release, Time To Swing. Led by one of the premiere straight-ahead drummers of his generation, the resulting music is an hour of joyful freedom, heartfelt emotion and electrifying communion. But it only results from the perfect combination of personalities, voices, tunes and feeling.

In the case of Time To Swing, due out September 18 via Smoke Sessions Records, the clock started ticking when Farnsworth invited jazz giant Wynton Marsalis to join him, legendary pianist Kenny Barron, and in-demand bassist Peter Washington for a once-in-a-lifetime recording. Farnsworth’s confidence stems not only from his growing recognition as one of the premiere straight-ahead drummers of his generation, but from wide-ranging experiences with some of the greatest artists working today.

You could dial the hands of time back to 1985, as the drummer was preparing to enter his senior year of high school and had his life changed by the release of Marsalis’ seminal Black Codes (From the Underground). “Suddenly you’ve got a whole new style of playing,” Farnsworth recalls. “I was young, but it felt like something new and modern was happening.”

Nearly two decades later, after building an impressive resume with legends such as Benny Golson, George Coleman, Curtis Fuller, Horace Silver, Cecil Payne, Harold Mabern, as well as Diana Krall, Farnsworth received the call from Marsalis that would result in the acclaimed Blue Note album Live at the House of Tribes, a date that the New York Times hailed as “fully alive and afire with ideas.”

The collaboration was the result of the kind of unconventional thinking that has made Marsalis the icon that he’s become in the jazz world. As Farnsworth recalls, “Wynton had been trying to scope me out a bit. The way he told it, a lot of guys were saying that I couldn’t play, that I was nothing – and he heard that so many times that he realized I must be playing well because it sounded like jealousy!”

The two continued to pursue separate paths from there, reconnecting from time to time under Marsalis’s auspices at the helm of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Most recently, Farnsworth joined the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a late-2018 tribute to Thelonious Monk, followed by the drummer being enlisted for the trumpeter’s stellar quintet to record the soundtrack for Edward Norton’s film Motherless Brooklyn. The time (to swing) was finally right, Farnsworth decided, to invite Marsalis to participate in a project of his own.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment since Live at the House of Tribes,” Farnsworth says. “I was a little hesitant to ask him because he’s so busy, but when you’re coming from the truth, you have nothing to worry about. And, he immediately said yes.”

Marsalis joins the band for the first four of the ten tracks on Time To Swing, vividly displaying the emotive virtuosity, bold tone and impeccable sense of swing that are his trademarks. “The way Wynton plays the trumpet is the way I want to play the ride cymbal,” Farnsworth marvels. “It’s pure joy. Playing time with him just hits to the core of me. His phrasing, his rhythm; that feeling’s never gone away. It actually got stronger over the last 20 years because I feel more confident and he’s only gotten better.”

The album opens with Farnsworth’s original composition “The Good Shepherd.” The title is in a sense a nod to Marsalis, but also to the many elders who have shared their experiences and wisdom with Farnsworth over the years. In the lead-up to the album’s release a few of those mentors have been lost, including Jimmy Cobb, Harold Mabern and Larry Willis. “The story of the Good Shepherd is from the Bible, which is dear to my heart,” Farnsworth explains. “It’s about a guy that is lost and gets saved, and I’ve experienced that in my life. And I’ve been helped by all these great people who were leading us young guys. Wynton personifies that to me, a leader that chooses to help other people.”

Marsalis’ brisk “Hesitation” was originally recorded on the trumpeter’s self-titled debut in 1982, and here gives his muted horn a fleet, agile workout, propelled by Washington’s nimble bass and Farnsworth’s propulsive beat, which are rapturous well before Barron makes his belated entrance with a barrage of sharp-elbowed jabs. The pianist’s lush chords set the tone for a gorgeous rendition of “Darn That Dream,” the nocturnal atmosphere airily suggested by Farnsworth’s brushwork, delicately floating beneath Marsalis’ heart-wrenching lyricism. The mood turns raucous with the tent revival vibe of the spiritual “Down By the Riverside.”

Farnsworth bridges the quartet and trio sections of the set with a magnificent solo piece “One for Jimmy Cobb,” dedicated to the legendary drummer of Kind of Blue and beyond, who passed away in May. “As rock solid as Jimmy Cobb was playing time, he was exactly the same as a human being,” praises Farnsworth, who relished the time he got to spend in the great drummer’s presence. “He was extraordinary on and off the bandstand, and I always felt like a kid when I was around him.”

The ensuing trio section of Time to Swing is a 5-song masterpiece in its own right. Farnsworth is renowned for his work in the classic piano trios of Cedar Walton, Hank Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Harold Mabern among others. Now the great pianist Kenny Barron can be added to that roster. “As a leader, I like to work with the best musicians and simply put them in the best position to do their thing,” Farnsworth explains. “I want them to be able to be as free as possible, because that allows me to be as free as possible. When you work with someone like Kenny Barron, all you really want to do is put them in the best light possible.”

The first of these five pieces is, in fact, a Barron composition, the bracing “Lemuria” reprised from the pianist’s 1991 album Lemuria-Seascape. It features Farnsworth’s most ferocious playing on the date, more than matched by Barron’s powerhouse attack. The drummer heard Barron toying with Billy Strayhorn’s classic “Prelude to a Kiss” with a Bossa twist while warming up at the date, and quickly added the offbeat arrangement to the repertoire.

“Monk’s Dream” is one of the towering pianist’s prickliest compositions and is rendered here with a playful yet pointed buoyancy. Washington’s enveloping, radiant tone illuminates Duke Ellington’s beautiful “The Star-Crossed Lovers,” and the session ends with the carefree celebration of “Time Was,” with Farnsworth’s jaunty uplift sure to leave listeners smiling.

With Time To Swing, Farnsworth does exactly that – not only bringing the invigorating feel that he invariably does to any piece of music, but also providing the time for some of modern jazz’s absolute best to work out, driven by the rush of his remarkable rhythms. As renowned drummer Billy Hart comments in his liner notes, “This whole record is happy,” and audiences will want to make their own time to revel in it.

“Time to Swing” was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith and recorded live in New York at Sear Sound’s Studio A on a Neve custom console at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to ½” analog tape using a Studer mastering deck. Available in audiophile HD format.

Joe Farnsworth · Time to Swing
Smoke Sessions Records · Release Date: September 18, 2020

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