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Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet: No U Turn: Live in Pasadena, 1975

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This previously unissued recording of cornetist Bobby Bradford and woodwinds player John Carter at Caltech’s Baxter Lecture Hall, with two bassists-Stanley Carter and Roberto Miranda-and drummer William Jeffrey, is the earliest known documentation of the Bradford/Carter duo in performance. It’s historic for a couple of reasons: It captures Carter on soprano, an instrument he would soon set aside in favor of the clarinet (which he plays here as well), and it includes a rare live recording of Bradford’s “Love’s Dream,” which he seldom performed in the U.S.

“Love’s Dream,” the opener, begins with a hymn-like intro-an underlying impetus toward freedom, recalling Albert Ayler’s brass/reed-ensemble hymns. Bradford’s cornet emerges as lead improvisational voice, then gives way to Carter’s soprano, then reasserts itself, setting the theme for the set: a deftly balanced collective improvisation that keeps individuality, along with group identity, in focus.

Although then, as now, “free” improvisation was commonly praised or castigated for its melodic and harmonic audacity, many of the music’s boldest innovations were percussive and temporal. Time itself, not just rhythm or cadence, is an improvisational medium here; at various points drums, basses and lead wind instruments erupt into contrasting, even conflicting time signatures. Bass solos blur the line between percussion and melody, as they alternate extended arco swoops, swirls and parabolas with furiously pumping walked lines and pizzicato flurries, matched by Carter and Bradford’s rapid-tongued skitters and extended-line meditations negotiated through intricately woven spaces amid dancing rhythm-section work. The principals anticipate, respond to and prod one another with joy, focus and discipline-“serious play” at its most profound.

Originally Published