Bobby Bradford Extet

Midnight Pacific Airwaves
Entropy Stereo Records ESR 018

Although Bobby Bradford’s highest profile came during the times he partnered alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and drummer John Stevens in the 1970s, the cornetist’s most concentrated activity has been in Los Angles, where since the 1960s, he and a few other crusaders have maintained a place for experimental music in Southern California.

The never-previously-issued music here is doubly vital since most of it dates from 1977, during a decade in which Bradford, who turns 75 today, didn’t record commercially. Although Bradford’s usual front-line partner, clarinetist John Carter, is absent, his chair is ably filled by a similar polymath: flutist James Newton, another Angelo, whose influences ranging from New music to Rahsaan Roland Kirk are fully exposed. Local bassist Richard Rehwald is a strong presence, while John Goldsmith, who played with Kirk as well as Sun Ra, is on drums. An additional track, recorded in 2003, matches Bradford with clarinetist Vinny Golia for a reprise of the brass man’s “She”, also played by the quartet. This too is prescient, since the cornetist’s work with Golia in the 1990s provides a link between earlier sound explorers such as him and the multi-reedman and a later generation characterized by bassist Ken Filiano and the Cline brothers.

More distant sounding than the quartet version, the duo “She” offers a unique pan-tonal and staccato variant on the theme, carried in double counterpoint by chalumeau clarinet runs and poignant brass plunger work. With the reedist providing the obbligato, Bradford digs deep for new variations on his own theme, pushing against and then away from the original melody. Irregularly pulsed, this version matches the cornetist’s bugle-calls in the lower register with a falsetto and altissimo counter line from Golia.

Rawer and more overtly Boppish, the quartet version of “She” balances on bell-shaking, rolls and flams from Goldsmith and sharp flute cries from Newton that rough up Bradford’s graceful statement of the melody. Not only does Newton flutter tongue and chirp, but in his interpolations, he produces the sort of parallel multiphonic lines that could have fit in with Kirk’s work. In between split-second quotes from other tunes, Bradford maintains ownership of his composition while subtly altering it. His rubato variations use paused pulses and triple-tonguing to stretch out the lines and measures which eventually contract back into the shape of the initial theme.

The other tracks reveal the quartet’s affiliations which stay true to the bedrock jazz continuum of Coleman and Thelonious Monk. Utilizing call-and-response, shout choruses as well as irregularly pitched and shaped timbres, the squeak-and-peep from Newton’s flute and the waves of low-brass sputters from Bradford remain firmly grounded thanks to pinches and rubs on the bassist’s strings and the drummer’s resounding snare patterns. Equally lyrical and sympathetic, the band advances the sounds without alienating – and maintains the understated intelligence that has continued to characterize Bradford’s influential work both playing and composing during the subsequent decades.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Comin’ On 2. She 3. Blue Monk 4. Improvisation #12 5. She (duo)*

Personnel: Bobby Bradford (cornet); James Newton (flute); Vinny Golia (clarinet)*; Richard Rehwald (bass) and John Goldsmith (drums)