John Carter & Bobby Bradford

Tandem (1 & 2) Remastered
Emanem 5204

Firmly part of the 21st Century ethos of anything-goes improvisations in 2014, it’s almost impossible to imagine the bravery that defined the duo work of clarinetist John Carter (1928-1991) and cornetist Bobby Bradford when these 16 tracks were recorded in 1979 and 1982. While the idea of solo improvising had been around for a while, having a regularly gigging ensemble of just two horns was audacious to say the least. Progenitors of many groups since that time, a close listen to Tandem shows how carefully Carter and Bradford were evolving their interactions and with 30 years plus of hindsight how profoundly Jazz-like a good portion of their program now appears.

Take for instance the differing versions of “Woodman’s Hall Blues” from 1979 and 1982. When first elaborated the parallel playing was firmly wedded to the New Orleans marching band tradition. Bradford is staccato and brassy upfront in the best King Oliver tradition, while Carter’s decorative runs could come from Alphonse Picou. Carter’s winnowing warble and the brass man’s Bluesy strain are most prominent. The distinct Pico- Oliver inferences are still there three years later, but Bradford’s slurring Blues orientation and Carter’s mellow formalism are distinctly their own. Even when lick trading, the movement isn’t back-and-forth but coursing in different directions. The triumph of the second version is that it has pushed the blues out of the parade ground into a space where a moderated melody exists alongside rhythmic impetus.

A similar, though converse, evolution is evident on the two versions of the title track. Initially circular, speedy and almost self-consciously abstract, plunger brass tones and reed splutters are most prominent, leading to an atonal coda which nearly negates the moderato climax. By 1982 a better balance had been attained. Taken at a statelier pace, the duo’s interlocking double counterpoint now glides along showcasing familiar melodic suggestions. By attaining a Free-bop-like groove, individual soloing has become freer. Bradford’s squeaky triplets and heraldic lead is joined by growling half-valve effects, while Carter’s moderato glissandi is segmented by altissimo peeps and dissonant overblowing.

This multifold sophistication also means that the beauty implicit in tone melding, first expressed in 1979 is intensified by 1982. There’s a near pop-music lightness to “Swiss Account” from the earlier disc, with the two moving in tandem and without raising their instrumental voices while demonstrating moderato linearity in their solos. Unselfconscious beauty is also present on “Petals” from 1982, with balanced timbres reflected in moderato clarinet puffs and melodic advancement via the trumpeter’s timbres.

Instructively enough you can also trace who contributes what to the dual program on the solo tracks. Carter’s “Les Masses Jigaboo” is a shrill essay in harsh reflux. His sprawling growls mix an undercurrent of folksy toughness with similar aleatoric asides that could arise from 20th century notated music. Closer to the nightclub than the classroom, Bradford’s “Portrait of J.B.G.” manages to wrap Blues, popular melody insinuations, bravura trumpeting and abstractions into an individual and swinging whole.

Historically important and musically satisfying, Tandem is still a bit out of the ordinary in 2014. But the broadening of musical expression over the past few years should garner it a new, appreciate audience.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc A: 1. Tandem 2. Petals 3. Angles 4. Portrait of J.B.G. 5. Circle 6. Woodman’s Hall Blues 7. She (Woman) 8. Echoes from Rudolph’s Disc B: 1. Sweet Sunset 2. Swiss Account 3. Tandem 4. And She Speaks 5. Les Masses Jigaboo 6. She (Woman) 7. Echoes from Rudolph’s 8. Woodman’s Hall Blues

Personnel: Bobby Bradford (cornet) and John Carter (clarinet)