4-STARS! An offer to revisit a classic jazz album for a Chicago concert series led saxophonist Geof Bradfield to return his attention to one of his favorite records. The experience was so good it became the germ for his superb new quintet album, on which he pays homage to the legendary blues and folk singer Lead Belly via tenor man Clifford Jordan, who made a Lead Belly tribute album for Atlantic in 1965.
Bradfield widened the scope for the project, his band tackling a pair of classics by the great Blind Willie Johnson along with a couple of Georgia Sea Island spirituals affiliated with powerhouse singer Bessie Jones. He also included three of his own tunes, each feting musicians who’ve made an impact on him: Randy Weston, Meshell Ndegeocello and Oliver Mtukudzi are expertly evoked by the melodies and feels, respectively, of “Clinton Hill,” “Meshell” and “Mbira Song.”
As he writes in his liner notes, Bradfield aimed for arrangements and performances that were “simple and direct,” and apart from couple of complex harmonies and an odd time signature, he hits the mark. He deserves credit for refusing to take the obvious route in paying tribute to his influences, coming up with something that says much more about himself than Lead Belly or Clifford Jordan.