Bobby Bradford, Hafez Modirzadeh, Mark Dresser, Alex Cline – Live at the Open Gate
(No Business Records NBLP96. LP review by Jon Turney)
Bobby Bradford, once Ornette Coleman’s “other” trumpet player, is still best known for that crucial early association. The US West Coast veteran, who turned 80 a couple of years ago, has also made notable recordings with John Carter, David Murray, and with his own groups, but a life of playing and teaching out of the critical spotlight has passed largely untroubled by the plaudits his music deserves. (The title of his gutsy 1984 Black Saint release, Lost in LA, doesn’t refer to a tune on the session, so may be a wry acknowledgment of how he felt about this.)
So it’s good to have this late career live date documented. Recorded in 2013, it features a co-operative quartet in which his cornet is joined by Hafez Modirzadeh on alto sax, first call bass player and long-time Bradford cohort Mark Dresser – he’s there on Lost in LA too – and the fiercely creative Alex Cline on drums.
The pianoless quartet falls squarely into the loping, freebop manner, with occasionally more straightforwardly boppish moments. It’s a challenge to keep that demanding idiom sounding fresh sixty years after it first crystallised, but they do. Bradford’s tone isn’t quite as clear as it once was but his melodic invention, on which all depends in this setting, still bubbles up strongly. It isn’t quite a match for Coleman – who is? – but has its own special bluesy charm. Modirzadeh, who co-produced the session, is an academic ethnomusicologist with synthetic interests in a wide range of folk musics. Here, though, he stays close to the sources of this music, even quoting Ornette licks here and there. His alto timbre can be attractively bleary or sharply incisive, mainly the former on Cline’s slow-building opener, Steadfast, more of the latter immediately after as his own fiery Facet 5 gathers intensity.
I don’t know if the recording follows the live set order – neither announcements nor applause are preserved here – but the music adds up to a well-balanced, brisk set. Most of the pieces are quite short, the front line exchanging phrases economically, or offering pithy solos.
Dresser and Cline are an ideal pairing for the session, fully present but never obtrusive in the warm-toned, mid-tempo pieces that predominate, egging the horn players on irresistibly in the faster items. Dresser has a solo bass excursion at the mid-point whose Haden-esque moments deepen the atmosphere.
All in all a piece of music-making well worth tracking down. It’s probably not the choicest item in the discography of anyone here, but a nice sample of work by a group all of whose members are masters of the style that Bradford helped to forge. Lithuanian label No Business Records offers a rich collection of work by less celebrated elders of improvised music. This vinyl only (so far) release is a worthy addition to their catalogue.