Jonathan Horwich, the fellow behind the superb Chicago jazz reissue label International Phonograph, cut his teeth in the jazz record biz while he lived in Los Angeles beginning in the late 60s, where among other things he was involved with running Revelation Records. One of the most important bands that imprint worked with was the New Art Jazz Ensemble, an outfit later known as the John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet. A couple of years ago Horwich compiled and produced an essential three-CD box set of that group’s Revelation Recordings for Mosaic Records. Now he’s carrying on that work by releasing a beautifully packaged reissue of Flight for Four, a 1969 album cut for Flying Dutchman Records, the label started by producer Bob Thiele after he left Impulse.

Reedist John Carter and cornetist Bobby Bradford were pioneers of free jazz on the west coast, adapting to their own magnificent end the concepts of fellow Texas native Ornette Coleman, who in 1965 happened to suggest their partnership. Their band employed a variety of rhythm-section members over the years, but the one here is probably the best, with bassist Tom Williamson and drummer Bruz Freeman, the elder brother of Von and George Freeman. Williamson is an endless source of energy, loosely tracing forms of each piece with a frenetic yet controlled propulsion that almost seems like the blueprint for what William Parker has been doing the last few decades. Freeman fit in perfectly with the front line in using deep foundations in hard bop and swing to push outward, chopping up time into little self-contained packets of rhythmic counterpoint and vivid asides. Both bassist and drummer supported the structure of the compositions without ever boxing the horn players in.

Carter composed four of the five tunes on the album, the cornetist the fifth, but the performances reveal a true collaboration. Bradford is deservedly well-known as one of the most lyric brass players in all of free jazz, and indeed, there are improvised phrases here that were lingering in my memory even though I probably hadn’t heard this album in a good ten years. A tuneful up-and-down line he plays on the album opener, “Call to the Festival,” emerges from a tightly coiled cluster of notes, and remerges in various mutations throughout his magical solo, especially when he repeats it three consecutive times with marvelous effect three and a half minutes in. Carter, who juggles alto and tenor saxophones here along with clarinet (the instrument he would soon dedicate himself to exclusively), is the angular, mercurial yin to Bradford’s plush, melodic yang, hijacking the high-velocity language of bebop into wonderfully jagged, interrelated phrases that arrive in exhilarating rushes. Below you can hear Carter’s piece “Abstraction for Three Lovers,” where the horn players quickly follow a seesawing arco figure by Williamson with a mirrored steeplechase ascent of their own, opening up to a deft give-and-take that characterized so much of what the group accomplished.


Within a few years Carter began devoting himself to different projects, including some bracing solo clarinet work, and between 1985 and ’89 he made his five-album octet masterpiece, Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music, one of the greatest achievements in jazz history. He died in 1991 at the age of 61. Bradford continues to play at a high level although, like Carter, he remains sadly underrecognized. In November he’ll make a rare Chicago appearance at this year’s Umbrella Music Festival.

Four of the tracks on Flight for Four were previously reissued in an ugly 1991 package on Novus called West Coast Hot, which paired the music with The Giant Is Awakened, another great Flying Dutchman album by pianist and fellow Angelino Horace Tapscott (nowhere in that Novus release were those album titles even mentioned). The International Phonograph reissue reverts to the original art in a gorgeous cardboard gatefold, with inserts of the original Frank Kofsky liner notes, and a new set by Boston jazz critic Ed Hazell. The digital transfers are fantastic.

Today’s playlist:

Vladislav Delay, Kuopio (Raster-Noton)
Eric Revis’ 11:11, Parallax (Clean Feed)
Farmer/Kilymis/Hughes/Cornford, No Islands (Another Timbre)
Salvador Trio, Tristeza (Mr. Bongo)
Dizzy Gillespie, Sittin’ In (Verve)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.