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March 2011

John Carter and Bobby Bradford
Mosaic Select 36
Mosaic Records

If you’re an admirer of saxophonist-clarinetist John Carter and trumpeter Bobby Bradford’s musical union, you’ll surely appreciate the invaluable service provided by Mosaic with this three-disc set. Previously, if you wanted to hear these two West Coast freeboppers, you had to do some searching. Their music has never been easy to come by, something that Carter himself seemed to anticipate if the liner notes for the pair’s second album, Secrets (’73), are any indication.

Carter and Bradford were former Ornette Coleman acolytes turned L.A. visionaries, guys with day jobs—as school teachers—forced to grind away at the business of music-making on the side. This collection includes all of Secrets plus their ’69 debut Seeking, as well as a sizable stash of much-storied unreleased music from as late as mid-1979, a period when the two musicians had abandoned drums and bass entirely.

Seeking isn’t as “out” as one might expect, given the radical-jazz tag that tends to accompany Carter/Bradford talk. It’s a set grounded by Bruz Freeman’s uptempo cymbal work and timely bomb-dropping—a hard-bop fan would hardly be lost here—but it’s also a very painterly session. “In the Vineyard” conjures an open space where the winds—in the form of horns—kick up and blow in alternating directions, a freeform of unimpeded movement.

Most of the unit’s material was composed by Carter. By the time of Secrets, he was also writing for piano, after having ditched a regular rhythm section. Carter and Bradford are in full-on assault mode with “Rosevita’s Dance,” one of the more amped up of all early ’70s pieces. Listening to it is bound to stir pangs of frustration—and some confusion—that these guys escaped the notice of most jazz fans. The unreleased material, meanwhile, is consistently as strong, and bountiful—more than doubling the duo’s commercial output. “Blues Upstairs”—Carter’s homage to his early Texas after-hours beginnings—is a meaty tenor piece, coming on like some swaggering cowpoke not afraid of a tussle. Emboldening jazz, through and through.

Originally published in March 2011
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