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GUITARISTIC Saxophonist Jeremy Udden has described Plainville as “throwing Lester Young and the Pixies into the same house and seeing if they can live together.” 
Which, in its own sweet time, is plenty. Over that beat, Udden sets his worn, hymn-like chords, introducing bits of gorgeous urban neurosis with watery guitar distortion or fidgety banjo from Brandon Seabrook. A tune like "Hammer" opens with a downright sprightly "cowboy" electric guitar shuffle. But this isn't just instrumental rock. The kind of dancing Udden and keyboarist Pete Rende do around each other on "Leland" — with its big chanka-chanka guitar rhythm and bassist Eivind Opsvik's jazz lilt — could only come from jazzbos. And on a piece like guitarist Nathan Blehar's "Thomas," Udden himself is at his lyrical best, spinning out an endlessly evolving alto line. This is carefully arranged music with an unruly streak — edgy, melancholy, but also at peace with itself. There even are a couple of modest, attractive vocals (from Blehar and Justin Keller). Is it jazz? Well, it's not not jazz.

The music on the band James Farm's homonymous Nonesuch debut is another departure for some well-established younger jazz musicians — saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland. It's got some of that same slow-burn quality of the Blade Fellowship, Plainville, and Parks's own Blue Note CD of a few years ago, Invisible Cinema.

On the face of it, this is a straight-up acoustic-jazz quartet. No cowboy guitars here. Except that, like Blade, Udden, Parks, or Burton and Swallow, you could say they're influenced by guitar bands harmonically and rhythmically, and they like to develop ensemble narratives over long unfolding structures. Penman's "Coax," for instance, moves from a tolling piano chord through several sections of gradually increasing heat. The band doesn't necessarily go for swing — they like odd meters and hard, "rock" eighth notes. But unlike Udden's wooly textures, James Farm (no clue where the name comes from) move through changes that are precision crafted. And as "collective" as this group is (everyone contributes tunes), it's still about virtuoso jazz muscle, whether in Harland's hard, busy beats or Redman's fierce runs and extended lines. The latter's "Polliwog" has a touch of Wayne Shorter–like whistle reverie, some jazz chords, and bit of jazz funk in the hook. And by the time they get to Parks's "Unravel," they're hitting a 6/8 groove with plenty of eighth-note swing. It's almost like a jazz album.

By comparison, Level (Creative Nation Music) the forthcoming album from Eric Hofbauer & the Infrared Band (due to drop June 21, with a show at Johnny D's June 15), really is a jazz album. You could even call it old-school. Except that the school is from 1985. Hofbauer has experimented with all manner of free formats, playing in Charlie Kohlhase's bands, recording (and playing live) in a duo with guitarist Garrison Fewell, and releasing a couple of politically tinged solo-guitar discs. Level is his second album with the Infrared Band. Here's the tension between structure and freedom that defined that first album (Myth Understanding, 2008) and so much of the best post-'60s avant-garde.

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