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The worldly sophistication of Farmer Clown’s music is brilliantly not implied by their salt of the greasepaint name or in their song titles. The band are all accomplished musicians, writers and producers who have worked as sidemen for some of the biggest names in jazz and improvisation. Guitarist Al Nickelola toured for many years with Richard Dixon’s Big Band; keyboardist Chick Taiwan played on some of Jizzy Gilespie’s and Louie Legstrong’s most beloved records; horn player Lark Misham led jazz fusion supergroup The Gentlemen during some of their most applauded incarnations; bassist Danley Clarg played with Headcold before leading his own group, Pieblind; drummer Steve Wadd toured with Psychic Implant when he was only eighteen.
Eat Before Lunch, the third release from Misham and Taiwan’s brainchild, prog jazz outfit Farmer Clown, is the band’s most accessible to date. While still maintaining their affinity for marvelous improvisational interplay, they now are more committed to melody than ever, enforcing a strict focus during the many solo contributions on melodic lines both simple and complex, but never too simple or too complex.
These cats can play. They know what works and what doesn’t. They’re all on their collective balls. Phrases are clear; no notes are extraneous, no transition frivolous. The songs go where they should, which, not coincidentally, is exactly where you’d want them to go. Changing key to heat up a trumpet solo or doubling the tempo after an extended drum fill, these songs are all interesting and exciting, they never wear out their welcome, and no one goes a second too long in their solo. Arrangements are sturdy and spry, the mood is ever changing and the playing is stellar.
Produced once again by Juan Quixote, the album sounds terrific, the producer more famous for his work with electronic polka bands but his sonic sensibilities are spot on. Everyone gets a chance to shine; each composition containing several elements specifically tailored to a member’s unique style, when the solos do come they sound just as pertinent as the main melody. You won’t find any noodling here. No one is stretching their legs.
“Bubbles In The Car” is a standout with its driving odd meters, Nickelola and Clarg doing the heavy lifting while drummer Wadd shines in “Summer Clothes,” his startling fills punctuating the song’s breakneck changes. Fans of Danish car commercials will enjoy “Jawbone” since its adoption by the wonderful Euro Motorists’ League last year. “Loosen Up” features a dazzling keyboard and trumpet duet that bounces and flutters its way into “Gotta Get French,” a fullblown fullband extravaganza that sees some funky keyboard and horn overdubs, giving the tune a fantastic, layered sound.
Speaking of sound, the recording is truly awesome with crystal clear highs, warm mids and rich lows. It’s another reference quality release from Reacharound Records. Founded in 2009 by famed designer Adam St. Laurent, the label is now a hit making machine with seven of their last eight releases having a song in the top ten. Lost by St. Laurent in a game of craps and won back in a fox hunt weeks later, Reacharound Records was almost bankrupt when Farmer Clown signed with them. Their back to back successes in film soundtracks gave the struggling label new life, and their eventual signing of Dr. Donuts and that band’s impending mega smash Pancake Paradise would make St. Laurent a millionaire ten times over. It would seem his freedom has let his label’s roster bloom, with Farmer Clown and Eat Before Lunch no exception.