John Carter & Bobby Bradford

The latest 3-CD box in Mosaic Records’ Select series, John Carter & Bobby Bradford, is something of a revelation. I’ve heard several albums over the years by the two musicians separately, but never their collaborations of 1969 (as the New Art Jazz Ensemble) and ’71 (as John Carter & Bobby Bradford, though playing with much the same quartet), both recorded on the obscure Revelation label. Now here they are, reissued with unreleased takes and a whole unissued (unknown) duet session that was laid down in ’79.

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.

Mark's picture

Thank you for helping to bring attention to this important release which most certainly deserves a larger audience.Here's to hoping that Mr. Carter's remaining out of print material will be re-issued, and for many more recordings and performances from the esteemed Mr. Bradford...

Scott Atkinson's picture

I second Mark's comment.Carter's 'Roots & Folklore' can sorta, kinda be pieced together from Amazon, but is crying out for a proper reissue, as is a lot of the 80s Gramivision material.As for the reissue here, couldn't agree more, Fred. This one gets a lot of play around my house.Scott A.Watertown NY

neal robin's picture

this is a digression. have any django reinhardt reissues been released recently?

ugg sale's picture

I had to refresh the page2 times to view this page for some reason, however, the information here was worth the wait.