Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Bobby Bradford / Frode Gjerstad / Kent Carter / John Stevens - Blue Cat (NoBusiness, 2019)

This is an excellent spontaneously improvised concert recorded during June of 1991 in Albany, London (not Albany, NY, alas) with a stellar multi-national band featuring Bobby Bradford on cornet, Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, Kent Carter on bass and John Stevens on drums. I’m not sure if this was a regular touring unit or not, but they play very well together, warming to the lengthy “Blue Cat I” gradually with smears of brass and bass patiently evolving. The group slowly comes together and coalesces with ripe saxophone and increasingly focused drumming, adding Carter’s bass for a deep rhythmic center that allows their improvisation maximum leverage. Bradford takes over with a strong voice amid thick bass playing and loud drumming and the group sounds very focused and alive, leading to a textually driven bass feature. The full group emerges in a very exciting and complex cooperative improvisation that adds many shades of brass and reed to nimble drums and bass. Their music is very flexible, projecting this quality into a walloping Stevens drum solo. “Blue Cat II” has Bradford setting a stoic opening theme, with percussion and saxophone building up from beneath. The sound is ominous and atmospheric, recalling Ornette Coleman’s music, someone who Bradford knew quite well. The space that they allow in the music is telling, and the gradual filling of it as the four come together on a collective improvisation at a faster pace is most impressive. The music is riveting at this point, with simmering drums, broiling cornet and saxophone, plus propulsive bass. Spare sounds open “Blue Cat III” as the group spirals and dances, whirling and leading to a saxophone feature over feathering drums and bass, where Gjerstad leaps and twirls like a ballet dancer, developing a compelling solo. The band reforms to a quartet playing fast and free sounding jazz building to a formidable tempo and complexity, with Bradford’s engagement with the drums particularly memorable, before the band develops a soft melodic landing. This is a very well done archival release by a band that definitely deserved to be recorded for posterity as well as the enjoyment of the free jazz loving public. It was originally released as a limited edition vinyl record, and is also available as a digital edition.

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