As anyone who regularly visits this space knows, I’m a huge fan of the music created by the LA jazz musicians John Carter and Bobby Bradford, whether together or on their own. In the summer of 2013 the great Chicago reissue label International Phonograph put the classic 1969 Flying Dutchman release Flight for Four (performed by a quartet led by Carter and Bradford) back into circulation, featuring a beautiful restoration of the original artwork within a lovely cardboard package. But most of that particular release had been previously issued on a CD (as was another album reissued by International Phonograph, by fellow LA titan Horace Tapscott). The second album Carter and Bradford made for Bob Thiele’s label, however, has never been available on disc—until now.
A few weeks ago the British imprint BGP reissued the 1970 album Self Determination Music, and although the packaging and new liner notes are generic, the music is so wonderful that I don’t care. For this recording the quartet—which also includes drummer Bruz Freeman, a former Chicagoan and brother to Von and George, and bassist Tom Williamson—was expanded to a quintet with the addition of second bassist Henry Franklin, giving the music an impressively knotty, spindly low end and an extra blast of propulsion. But as usual the real thrill is the work of the ebullient front line, which was in the thick of putting its own spin on the sound of Ornette Coleman—an icon whom Bradford had played with, both before Self Determination Music and later for the sessions that produced Broken Shadows. Carter wrote three of the four pieces, with Bradford composing “The Eyes of the Storm,” an aptly titled burner with extended multilinear solos on which the highly attuned rapport of the horn players couldn’t be more obvious.
Carter’s moody ballad “Loneliness” mixes up the timbre, with Freeman opening the piece with terse xylophone figures over bowed basslines and the muted braid of Carter’s flute and Bradford’s cornet, the latter of which set the tone before the simmering melody rolls in like a bank of fog. Bradford, playing with a mute, shows off his most tender, lyric side, with Carter shadowing him with gauzy, liquid flute shapes. The high-velocity closer “Encounter” deftly shows off Bradford’s agility at a breakneck tempo, pushing into the horn’s upper register without losing control of his tart, tuneful phrasing, while Carter delivers a jagged tenor solo that demonstrates there was already far more to his game than Coleman’s strain of free jazz, at times sounding closer to Sam Rivers or John Tchicai. Below you can hear the opening track, Carter’s “The Sunday Afternoon Jazz Blues Society,” which he rerecorded as “Sunday Afternoon Jazz Society Blues” for his great 1989 album with Bradford called Comin’ On (Hat Art). I first heard it on the later album, and its spirited, chirping melody has never left me—hearing this version was like running into an old friend.
Doug Watkins, Watkins at Large (Transition, Japan)
Leos Janácek, Sinfonietta (Decca)
Slide Hampton, The Fabulous Slide Hampton Quartet (Pathé, Japan)
Bob Dylan, Infidels (Columbia)
Nkengas, Destruction (Secret Stash)