Jazz Beyond Jazz

Howard Mandel at Jazz Beyond Jazz had some nice things to say about last weeks FONT series honoring Bobby Bradford.

The Festival of New Trumpet is an ongoing and semi-frequent initiative put together by trumpeters including Dave Douglas, Taylor Ho Bynum and Roy Campbell, who is often heard among Vision Festival compatriots. The fall ’09 edition honored Bobby Bradford, a Mississippi-born, Dallas-bred, long-ago-in-LA player with Ornette Coleman; Bradford is heard on Coleman’s 1971 classic Science Fiction. He had a longstanding musical partnership with clarinetist John Carter, who died in 1991, and he has taught at Pasadena City College and Pomona College; his standing band is called the Mo’tet and I heard them in 2005 at the Jazz Bakery, but never since I moved to New York in ’82 do I recall him appearing here.

Best thing about FONT honoring Bradford is that at age 75 he remains in fine shape to play his horn, which he used at the Standard not as a blaring, blasting thing to brandish boldly, but rather a subtle instrument with which to explore some subtle yet heartfelt sonic issues — hand-muting as timbre-shading, use of the mellow low register, disjunct phrases setting up complicated moods, compositions built from shards of blues. Another best thing is that Bradford was given a dream team: his former student David Murray in from Paris to play tenor sax; New Yorker Marty Ehrlich (who was on several Carter-Bradford recordings) playing clarinet and alto sax; Mark Dresser in from California to bow and pluck upright bass; drummer Andrew Cyrille (on Bradford’s second night, this group enlarged to eight pieces).

This was another event which drew serious, searching musicians to hear it — pianist Connie Crothers was there, reporting her stint at the Stone was a gratifying success; vibist Kevin Norton was at Crother’s table; East Village multireedist Sabir Mateen, tubaist Bob Stewart, trumpeters Douglas and Campbell, others I’m sure I overlooked — because the musicians onstage were serious and searching. And finding. Bradford’s pieces took effortful attention, which Murray, Ehrlich, Dresser and Cyrille didn’t make look easy but did make look like it was important to them to do. They made us listen in to their collective activity, which I likened to a painter friend who accompanied me as five Impressionists determining to work together to decorate a single room with a mural that would serve the space more than their individual egos.

Murray took one extended, craggy solo that expanded on his characteristic legato phrasing, and Ehrlich was exemplary throughout (as is his practice; I’ve never seen him give less than his all to whatever music is at hand, his band or someone else’s). The band was unusually well-balanced, with Cyrille playing every his stool and the walls behind him as well as his cymbals and drums with the touch appropriate to each, and Dresser letting notes resound like trees falling in forests. But one of the finest passages was what Bradford called a “tone poem. . . which doesn’t rhyme,” featuring the three horns without the rhythm, in a blend that stretched wide as the three voices each went off down their own paths. After two sets I didn’t remember any melodies or wickedly wild passagess, but I felt like I’d studied and learned from five people working very carefully on something meaningful to them, which brought me closer to doing something meaningful myself. Very rewarding experience.