Nowhere near a household name, not even the first to come to mind when one thinks of free jazz, like, say, Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor, but reed player John Carter and cornetist Bobby Bradford have nonetheless always delivered top flight performances of improvised music using vehicles well-crafted for this purpose.
The still active Bradford and the late Carter are both performers who spent most of their professional careers teaching and lecturing, but they have also left a significant if not sizeable body of recordings in other, separate contexts, as well as a few duos. This two-disc duo set captured live is a reissue of an early session featuring these sound artists. The first disc features 10 pieces recorded at a Worcester concert in 1982, the second a set delivered at the UCLA Schoenberg Hall in Los Angles in 1979, as Bradford and Carter opened up for the Art Ensemble of Chicago in what must have been a memorable event.
The academic experience of these two players comes through in the contrapuntal and compositional elements that inform most of the pieces, giving them a chamber music quality that is both intimate and virtuosic. The unfolding of the music is both lyrical and technically impressive, as the expressive means of the players are exposed in an intense manner, something especially evident in the delicate unfolding of a tune like "Petals."
Arcs of melody in tandem, followed by solos stretches, then pas de deux improvisations, to return to solos and end together is a formal aspect common to several of the pieces. Theme and variations is the most evident thinking going on formally speaking, although there can be several related parallel themes. Sonata forms comes to mind, but there is an openness that is distinct from anything really rigidly defined, or at least that's the effect. Emotionally, the music tends toward the introspective, but there are swaggering moments as in the main figure in "Portrait of J.B.G." and in the delightfully garrulous "And She Speaks."
The freedom in the playing, as it seems to pour out of the hearts and minds of these two master players, is certainly worthwhile listening for anyone who enjoys expressive and skilled trumpet and reed playing, but is also recommended for anyone interested in the demanding art of free jazz.
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