In recent years the great Michigan independent jazz label Nessa Records has focused most of its energy on reissuing gems from its catalog on CD—whether by free jazz luminaries like Wadada Leo Smith and Hal Russell or old-school swing and bop masters like Eddie Johnson and Ira Sullivan. But it’s encouraging in this inhospitable climate for record labels, especially ones devoted to improvised music, that Nessa has just released an all-new recording. Silver Cornet is a terrific live session recorded in Baltimore in March by the Bradford/Gjerstad Quartet. Nessa has a long history with LA cornetist Bobby Bradford—the brilliant melodist who worked most famously with clarinetist John Carter (as well as the legendary Ornette Coleman)—releasing a pair of excellent albums cut in the 70s with British drummer John Stevens. In fact, it was Stevens who first introduced Bradford to the Norwegian reedist Frode Gjerstad as part of a quartet rounded out by the South African bassist Johnny Dyani called Detail Plus back in the mid-80s.
In the years since Gjerstad—a free jazz maverick long committed to rough-and-tumble improvising that’s made him stand out among his more hybrid-oriented countrymen—and Bradford first met they’ve reconnected in fits and starts. Over the last decade most of those encounters have featured the explosive Norwegian rhythm section of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love; but on the tour from which Silver Cloud was recorded the latter wasn’t available, so Chicago percussionist Frank Rosaly—a trusted collaborator of Håker Flaten’s in numerous ensembles—was recruited to fill in. No one can fill in for Nilssen-Love, but Rosaly has his own coloristic, imaginative genius and he brings a more measured, texture-driven presence to the proceedings while still tapping into his innate sense of swing. The recording captures a single set, all of it improvised, which wends through exhilarating peaks and valleys in terms of tempo, density, and intensity. Bradford, who shows no signs of being 80 years old (his birthday was this past summer), is the rare player of his generation and stylistic milieu who deftly participates in free settings without surrendering any of his freebop identity. No matter how woolly or abstract his surroundings get, he makes his richly melodic phrases fit in perfectly, which give his collaborators a steady source of material for improvisation. Below you can listen to final piece on the album, “And Me, Me and You.”
Gjerstad is performing a free concert on Wednesday night at Constellation—previewed in this week’s paper by Bill Meyer—leading his current working trio with Nilssen-Love and fellow Norwegian bassist Jon Rune Strøm. They’ll be joined by the boisterous New York trombonist Steve Swell, a supermuscular improviser with a brash, fat tone, and his presence ought to push the music in a different direction than Bradford would. Although Swell is well schooled in postbop fundamentals, he tends to produce a fierier, energy-driven sound.
Zedashe Ensemble, Intangible Pearls (Electric Cowbell)
Jimmy Giuffre, The Four Brothers Sound (Atlantic, Japan)
Emerson String Quartet, Journeys (Sony Classical)
St. Vincent, St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)
Nils Petter Molvaer & Moritz Von Oswald, 1/1 (Emarcy, Germany)