With a name lifted from a 1988 short film by David Lynch made for French television, the jazz quintet Cowboys and Frenchmen clearly isn’t trying to hide its experimental proclivities. Co-led by alto and soprano saxophonist Ethan Helm and alto and baritone saxophonist Owen Broder, the New York combo has honed a wily and often elliptically lyrical sound that makes it almost impossible to tell where a written passage stops and improvisation starts.
The band makes its Bay Area debut with a series of performances around the region, including Oct. 10 at San Francisco’s swanky Black Cat, Oct. 12 at at Oakland’s intimate Sound Room and Oct. 13 at San Jose’s bohemian Art Boutiki (on a double bill with Never Weather, a Bay Area quintet led by drummer Dillon Vado).
Following 2015’s critically hailed debut album “Rodeo,” Cowboys and Frenchmen released an inordinately engaging sophomore project last October, “Bluer Than You Think” (both on Outside in Music) that expands on the band’s woozy mélange of folk, pop, rock and chamber jazz.
“Both of us enjoy playing through-composed music,” says Broder, who performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival last month with clarinetist Anat Cohen’s Tentet. “We enjoy the arranging and treat the quintet like a large ensemble. We’re not really interested in having everyone blowing over the same form. We create background figures that are written and orchestrated for the band. It’s our way of having a large ensemble in a much more economically realistic way.”
Joining saxophonists Broder and Helm are founding members Ethan O’Reilly on bass and Matt Honor on drums. The piano chair has been unsettled of late, and for the West Coast gigs, the rising Los Angeles player Austin Byrd is the designated keyboardist.