John Carter – Bobby Bradford Quartet – Seeking hatOLOGY 620

I typically avoid the first person pronoun but this review is an exception, for my personal reaction to Seeking was particularly intense. I have a little drill I go through to prepare for a critical-listening session. First I adjust the seal of the earphones to give the highest quality sound and to isolate me from the external environment. Before I put anything into the mac dvd-player on the MacBook, I de-focus my mind in order to clear it of emotional bias. For this session, I had six hatOLOGYs to listen to. I picked one at random, paying no attention to the cover or the name of the cd I was about to listen to.

The first cut was an original composition. The head was fast, exceedingly fast, the kind of tempo through which Max Roach and Clifford Brown, or Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Griffin, galloped war-horses like “Cherokee.” It was the kind of tempo that made the listener think “if they go any faster, they’ll spin out of control.” The music ran with the muscularity of a 302 in³ V8 220 hp 1969 Ford Mustang with tack-sharp rack-and-pinion steering that zoomed through the frictionless curves of the music. The playing did not evoke an aged form but something almost au courant, composed but very free.

The tenor saxophonist and the trumpeter matched each other point for point during the head. The bass player was clearly the anchor, adding tension through pedal-point and start-stop techniques. The drummer was unrestrained, never staying in one place on the kit, impelling the music without commanding the others.

All I could think was, “These guys are incredible! Who are they?” My aural memory only had one clue: the trumpeter and the tenor saxophonist had a especially synchronistic relationship. The aural memory went into search mode but was soon overwhelmed by the intensity of the music. This music was so good it did what the best music does: overwhelm thought and bring pleasure, emotion, and joy to the forefront.

After the head, the tenor saxophonist took the first solo. He projected a strappingly puissant confidence, the kind of bold and brawny driving sound comes from heroes like Coleman Hawkins or Sonny Rollins, his signature as unique as theirs. Something in his sound that said ‘countryside’, a sound influenced not by a city atmosphere, but rather by the acuity of vision that comes from staring across an immense flatland devoid of recognizable features, but rather by the need to hurtle down a road to meet the lights glowing ahead in the gathering darkness to make the next gig, or maybe to outflank the twister coming out of the desert heat.

But who was he? Critics are supposed to know these things, but I was caught flat out.

A hint came from the next solo. The bassist and drummer had brought the tempo down as the tenor played out his solo and in kicked the unmistakable sound of a Bobby Bradford trumpet. Bradford can play fast, as demonstrated by the opening head. But for his solo statements he seems to prefer mid-tempo. Bradford is a most logical player, typically giving the impression he has pre-planned every single phrase. But the way a listener feels his music is as if he has invented everything on the spot. It is a curious teeter-totter world to be listening in Bradford’s zone. But that’s what successful improvisation is all about.

The second cut was a ballad, the reed player changing horns to alto saxophone, emphasizing long tones. No help here in identifying him, the bassist, or the drummer. They were unknowns to me. The composition was really an extended bass solo, a playful, off-kilter pizzicato statement in which he varied from deep tones up to the viola range of the instrument.

On cut three, the head was again taken at light speed. The tenorist-altoist was now playing a third instrument, the clarinet. The tone and attack made it stunningly obvious that the musician could be none other than John Carter.

The album was originally recorded in 1969 by the New Art Jazz Ensemble, a group that had been playing since 1965. Carter and Bradford had greater-fame potential, especially because they were linked by musical and Texas associations with a then rising-star, Ornette Coleman. Carter, for example conducted Coleman’s first symphonic work, “Inventions of Symphonic Poems,” in May 1967 at the UCLA Jazz Festival.

Carter and Bradford, however, did not move to New York like Coleman. They stayed in Los Angeles as teachers and family-men. Carter died in 1991. Bradford soldiered on and is today a highly respected Los Angeles area musician, playing frequently with Golia. Drummer Bruz Freeman came from the famed Chicago-based family of musicians. He died several years ago, still active in the music scene, especially in Hawaii. Prior to the New Art Jazz Ensemble he had recorded with Charlie Parker and Hampton Hawes. Of bassist Tom Williamson there is precious little documentation.

Carter established his reputation from his clarinet work, yet even this documentation is slim. The majority of his discography is played with music soul mate Bradford. hatART also published “Bobby Bradford-John Carter: Comin’on!” Martin Davidson’s label Emanem has a couple of Carter-Bradford duets in their current catalog. Vinny Golia’s Nine Winds label has two recordings, one of them out of print. An internet source has available “Clarinet Summit” a collaboration among Carter, Alvin Baptiste, Jimmy Hamilton, and David Murray. Black Saint has two recordings available, the more significant one being Dauwhe. That recording is the first of the five that make up the magisterial Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music. Sadly, Gramavision, which originally published the other four episodes, does not even list these treasures on their web-site.

The number of recordings available from the genius clarinetist are rare enough, but to also hear Seeking with Carter on tenor, alto, and flute is an opportunity no serious collector, or for that matter, musicians, should pass up. Furthermore, the 24-bit re-mastering by Peter Pfister is superb.

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