John Carter & Bobby Bradford
The quartets are in the pattern and mood of Ornette Coleman’s quartet, and the resemblance is not merely derivative. Bradford, Carter, and Coleman, roughly the same age, all hailed from Ft. Worth, Texas. Carter had even briefly played with Coleman back home, and when he and Bradford moved to L.A. (another coincidence they all shared), Ornette introduced them to each other.
Carter, who died in 1991, plays alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and flute. Bradford, who’s still very much around (I wrote about his performance at the Jazz Standard in this space not long ago) plays trumpet and is, in some ways, Don Cherry to Carter’s Ornette Coleman. The set reminds us (or let us know for those, like frankly me, who never knew) that Ornette’s style of L.A. jazz laid down a legacy that was followed without a move to New York. The group’s tunes, almost all composed by Carter, are “free,” in the sense that they progress with no (or, at times, the barest hint of) chord changes. They run alternately fast, slow (as in ballads) and mid-tempo (as in the blues). But they have an elegance and precision that the Ornette Coleman quartet often lacked. This is not to say that they're better; only that they're an extension, not a replay, of what O.C. set in motion.
The first disc is the jackpot: these are all, by today’s standards, accessible, even lovely, though jaggedly high energy. The second disc is a mixed bag; the tracks that include a piano take the blues in a fiery direction that I wish had been more widely heard and followed up on. The sound quality of both discs is good, not great: not much different from the sonics of the Ornette discs on Atlantic.
Disc 3 is the oddball: a completely improvised session laid down at Westlake Studios, where Stevie Wonder recorded, with a pair of B&K omni mikes, no enhancements, just the two of them. Musically, it’s riveting, if sometimes too dissonant for even my taste (I’ve never liked a squeaky clarinet, perhaps because I played one in my youth.) But the sound, though a bit dry (as was the small studio), has a palpable presence.