Bobby Bradford (continued)

As I was saying a few days ago, Bobby Bradford’s rare appearance at the Jazz Standard last Saturday was one of the most bracing sets I’ve seen in a long time. In the early-to-mid ‘90s, New Yorkers could go hear this sort of jazz—exuberant, free, but highly disciplined music—almost every night at the Knitting Factory. Just about everyone in Bradford’s band on Saturday was a regular at “the Knit” in its heyday—David Murray on tenor sax, Marty Ehrlich on alto, Mark Dresser on bass, Andrew Cyrille on drums: an extraordinary band.

Each of these players knows how to improvise on a theme in wildly flighty excursions without ever quite snapping the tether to that theme. What was remarkable about Saturday’s set was that each player followed his own flight path yet they all meshed wondrously in ensemble. This is what “free jazz,” at its finest, is all about, not just blowing whatever comes into your head (as some of its practitioners seem to think).

Bradford, who plays trumpet, is too little known, perhaps because he lives and teaches in L.A. In the early ‘60s, he briefly replaced Don Cherry in Ornette Coleman’s quartet and later played on Coleman’s album Science Fiction. (I’m told that Ornette showed up at the Standard for the second set Saturday to watch his old friend in action.) Bradford is 75 now, and, though his tone isn’t the clarion call it once was, his knack for brooding minor-key harmonies, his romantic sway with a ballad, and his surefooted sense of staggered time are all undiminished.

Murray, who was Bradford’s student at Ponoma College in the ‘70s, plays New York too infrequently these days as well, having moved to Paris a dozen years ago. He still blows like Ben Webster cycled through Albert Ayler, and taps into the rhythms of the earth.

Ehrlich soaked up the heat and bounced it back with an exuberance I’ve rarely heard from him. Dresser, who has played with Bradford off and on for nearly as long, plucked the bass with hair-raising focus and energy; his solos were turbulent one-man call-and- response sessions. Cyrille, a master of polyrhythms, egged everyone on while tossing out anchors to buoy up every stormy current.

When you put players of this caliber together, they bring out the best in themselves and one another. Somebody, record this band!

nunh's picture

Excellent article/ blog entry!Love living vicariously through an astute listener/ fan!