Robert Bush // The New York City Jazz Record (July 2021)

Trumpet/cornet master Bobby Bradford, who turns 87 this month, is an American treasure. This has been true since the early ‘60s, when he first entered the public consciousness because of his association with Ornette Coleman. It was Bradford who initially won the trumpet seat in Coleman’s early L.A. quartet, but a lack of work forced him into other means of support and he was subsequently replaced by Don Cherry.

Bradford’s group with clarinetist John Carter yielded several albums of the most potent West Coast avant garde jazz ever released and his duos with multi- instrumentalist Vinny Golia are never short of thrilling. Two recent releases illustrate just how important a figure he represents in the wide arc of creative music.

Live at Bing Theatre is a 1985 session by the wonderful bassist Roberto Miranda (he used a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund the concert, which also served as his Masters Recital Performance.) The personnel reads like a Who’s Who of the West Coast avant garde jazz scene, including Bradford, Carter, James Newton (flute) and Horace Tapscott (piano). Also on board are his father Louis Miranda, Sr. (percussion), brother Louis Miranda, Jr. (drums), Buddy Toscano (drums, timbales), Cliff Brooks (timbales, congas, bongos), David Bottenbley (guitar, electric bass, percussion, vocal) and Thom David Mason (alto/tenor saxophones, clarinet).

With players like that, the bar is set to the highest rung and these cats do not disappoint. Bradford has a beautiful sound and presence and he sounds stronger than an oak on these seven selections, all composed by the leader. Buoyed by Miranda’s furious walking and an ebullient Tapscott, Bradford stakes out a territory between the smearing style of Cherry and the high- note alacrity of Freddie Hubbard. Three decades later, one is particularly struck by the contribution of Newton, never less than heroic.

Fast forward 34 years and Bradford’s mastery has evolved exponentially. The incendiary trio Purple Gums with William Roper (tuba, gemsbok clarinet, bovine femur trumpet, water buffalo horn, khaen, pungi, lip-reed, spoken word, vocals) and tenor saxophonist Francis Wong yields Back Where We Came From, combining spoken word with vocals and all of it freely improvised.

Listening to the album, it all seems impossible to contemplate that this could be spontaneously created, especially the text/poetry/lyrics. The album was recorded live in 2019, a full year before the death of George Floyd, yet the lyrics to “From Sea to Shining Sea” could have been written yesterday—“I can’t breathe / I can’t breathe / I felt threatened / I had to take him out”. All the while, Bradford sputters and swaggers and delineates the substance of the blues like a true oracle.

Despite his age, Bradford does not appear to have lost a step as an improvisor and conversationalist. Both of these documents serve as proof-positive to a legacy still in the making. The time to celebrate Bradford is long overdue.

 

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