Bobby Bradford-Frode Gjerstad Quartet

The Delaware River
NoBusiness NBLP 87

By Ken Waxman

There may be 5,251 miles separating Los Angeles and Stavanger, but L.A.-based cornetist Bobby Bradford, 81, and Norwegian saxophonist/clarinetist Frode Gjerstad, 67, are so attuned in their playing that it sounds like they’re next door neighbors with daily practice sessions. On this, their fourth quartet disc, the collaborative inspiration is as high as usual. Each time they play the brass specialist and the reedist cement a relationship that goes back to the ‘70s and ‘80s when each played separately, then together with the late British drummer John Stevens. Like a TV series invigorated by gradually adding new characters though this The Delaware River is more than a two character playlet.

While Bradford is the iconoclastic cornetist who was a member of Ornette Coleman’s little-recorded second quartet, alto saxophonist and clarinetist Gjerstad is a Scandinavian version of Coleman, with a singular free jazz vision at variance with the prevailing cold Nordic sound. Gjerstad encouraged and employed younger Norwegian improvisers such as bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, featured on this disc, and the nearly ubiquitous Paal Nilssen-Love, whose place in this quartet is now taken by Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly.

It’s Rosaly’s minimal rim clanks which usually set the scene for the four improvisations here. With comparable reserve, Håker Flaten rarely draws attention to himself, instead like a sheep dog with a flock, he fluidly maneuvering others’ timbres in sync. Unsurprisingly “River In”, balanced on a double bass ostinato, sounds like a page from the Coleman book with Bradford seemingly quoting “Lonely Woman”. But Gjerstad’s stop-start clarinet slurs move the narrative into the contemporary realm. More characteristic is “Sailing Up The” where stringent alto saxophone cries unite with tart brass grace notes for tones so piercing they surmount altissimo. Still, the concordance is so obdurate – and the accompaniment so spot-on – that the horn players probe unexpected sonic avenues with no sense of strain or sweat, but with a reassuring sense of gratified discovery.

Having worked out centrifugal musical flow over the years, on the evidence here, Bradford and Gjerstad have become like the proverbial wine whose quality improves with age. Spicing from younger players makes this liquid blend even more palatable.

Tracks: Sailing Up The; Delaware; River In; 1965 Was Amazing.

Personnel: Bobby Bradford: cornet; Frode Gjerstad: alto saxophone, Bb clarinet; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass; Frank Rosaly: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record April 2016