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JAZZ REVIEW : Farmer's Fluegelhorn of Plenty

November 12, 1987|DON HECKMAN

Watching Art Farmer cock his golden fluegelhorn up into the spotlight, and hearing cornucopia of precisely articulated tones come pouring out, is like stepping into a cozy time warp. Before there was New Age, before there was fusion and avant-garde, there was Farmer, with his unparalleled lyricism and gorgeous sound.

Incredibly, in the three decades since his arrival on the jazz scene, Farmer's music has lost almost none of its crystalline purity. His opening set at Catalina's Bar and Grill on Tuesday night glistened with an elegance and style that made a quiet, but persuasive case for the value of tradition and continuity in jazz.

Despite the fact that he was playing with a local rhythm section, Farmer eschewed the obvious repertoire and played a fascinating collection of tunes from (among others) Benny Carter, Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins and Mal Waldron.

His characteristically delicate, filigree improvisation on Duke Ellington's "What Am I Here For" craftily obscured Farmer's sometimes remarkable harmonic choices. On Rollins' difficult "Waltz Hot," he burst out of his occasionally too-predictable eighth-note patterns into flashing double time and disjunct accents.

And the arrival of Harry "Sweets" Edison in the room--"someone I really want to impress," said Farmer--provoked the best solo of the evening, a darting, devil-may-care, high-speed romp around the corniche curves of Cedar Walton's "Firm Roots."

Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, looking a bit wan and physically infirm, provided low-keyed, but thoughtfully contrasting solos. Like Farmer, he played masterful harmonic improvisations, with long, serpentine lines that glided easily through a thicket of altered chords.

Farmer, who rarely appears in the Los Angeles area, will continue at Catalina's through Saturday, with shows at 9 and 11 p.m.

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