Geof Bradfield Credit: Michael Jackson

Few Chicago jazz musicians operate with the erudition and rigor of saxophonist Geof Bradfield, a scholar of the music’s history, a thoughtful composer, and an artist who never reverts to autopilot. When he was approached about making a live release by British Columbia-based jazz label Cellar Live, he didn’t merely trot out an assortment of past accomplishments but crafted new pieces with the attention to detail and holistic construction one might expect on a meticulously assembled studio effort. The album, Birdhoused, was recorded during a cold March day this year at the Green Mill (in front of an “audience of Canadian jazz fans and friends,” according to Bradfield’s liner-note essay). It opens with a trio of pieces that seem confounding together on paper—Curtis Mayfield’s “The Other Side of Town,” Charlie Parker’s “Constellation,” and the early György Ligeti masterpiece “Sonatina”—but flow into one another with ease, oiled by the sextet’s versatile personnel—alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, trumpeter Marquis Hill, trombonist Joel Adams, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Dana Hall. Bradfield’s lovely arrangements make the most of his four-horn front line, and the wide array of styles the album’s covers is echoed in the originals that follow. “Fearful Symmetry” features a twined exploration of Messiaen and Moroccan music, and “Solid Jackson,” a tune inspired by Bradfield’s studies with bassist Charlie Haden, mixes Ornette Coleman-like melodic flair and the slow-motion movement characteristic of Keith Jarrett’s early quartet. Of course, all the exactitude and intelligence in the world don’t help if they’re not matched by soulfulness, and this combo brings an unstinting depth of feeling to its work. Tonight the full band reconvenes at the spot where the record was made.   v