Geof Bradfield

OUR ROOTS

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.

 

Our Roots Front Cover

Click cover to listen and buy

BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN 
Geof Bradfield Quintet, 
Our Roots 
(Origin)
The idea for saxophonist Geof Bradfield’s intrepid new album Our Roots sprang from a concert series in Chicago called the Fulton Street Jazz Record Art Collective, in which musicians perform a classic jazz album in its entirety. Since its inception, visiting artists have covered works by all the usual suspects—John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach—but when it was Bradfield’s turn, the Houston-born saxophonist delved deeper into jazz history. His album: These Are My Roots, Clifford Jordan’s 1965 tribute to folk-blues hero Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. When Bradfield first heard this recording on cassette in the late 1990s, he was so smitten by it that he wore the tape out. It’s easy to understand why. Jordan’s album is a beautiful marriage of past and present; it effortlessly channels the raw passion of Lead Belly’s folksy vocals while infusing the material with a modern hard-bop sensibility. Bradfield’s record accomplishes a similar feat, though with a distinctly 21st-century twist. The album consists of four of the Lead Belly songs that Jordan originally recorded—“Take This Hammer” and “Dick’s Holler” are exhilarating—as well as a handful of traditional Southern folk songs and two Blind Willie Johnson covers. Aside from a few odd-metered tunes and the occasional altered chord, Bradfield purposefully avoids the “highbrow” trappings of contemporary jazz, focusing instead on simple melodies played warmly and directly. Accompanying Bradfield on this project is the deeply empathetic unit of Marquis Hill on trumpet, Joel Adams on trombone, Clark Sommers on bass and Dana Hall on drums—a dream team of Chicago-reared jazz players. Each upholds a profound commitment to melody and groove, making this album less about the soloists and more about the spirit of the music that inspired it. By saluting Jordan and Lead Belly, Bradfield’s album shines a light on two important—if unheralded—artists in American music. It also raises the stature of another: Bradfield himself.

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This is music that says America…proud sounds, sometimes raucous and rubbery, spiritual, occasionally brash, and consistently brimming with joy.****1/2 AllAbout Jazz 

From the Press Release: On saxophonist/composer Geof Bradfield’s new CD Our Roots his chordless quintet delves into the sacred and profane music of the rural South. The ensemble premiered the music at the 2014 Hyde Park Jazz Festival and a few months later gave its first European performance at the Made in Chicago Festival in Poznan, Poland. Joining Bradfield on Our Roots are trumpeter Marquis Hill (winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk Trumpet Competition), trombonist Joel Adams, drummer Dana Hall, and bassist Clark Sommers, all long time collaborators on the vital Chicago jazz scene. Sommers, Bradfield and Hall form the freewheeling trio Ba(SH), which released its first CD on Origin in 2013. That same year, Adams and Sommers contributed to Bradfield’s critically acclaimed suite Melba! for the labelHill and Bradfield are the frontline of Greenleaf recording artist Matt Ulery’s chamber jazz quintet, Loom. Inspired by Clifford Jordan’s These Are My Roots: The Music of LeadbellyOur Roots offers new interpretations of four pieces from that 1965 recording. “I first heard Clifford in person alongside Von Freeman at the Green Mill in ’91,” says Bradfield. “Though completely distinctive, they both embodied this combination of sophistication with gutbucket that defines the great Chicago tenors.” Bradfield and company summon the spirit of Jordan’s original recording, but don’t necessarily adhere to the letter: the trio rendition of “Black Girl,” for example, owes as much to Albert Ayler as to Jordan, while the harmolodic conversation between trumpet and tenor on “Yellow Gal” evokes Ornette Coleman. Alongside the Lead Belly pieces are Bradfield’s arrangements of spirituals from the Georgia Sea Islands and songs by Texas blues singer and itinerant preacher Blind Willie Johnson. Three new pieces by Bradfield round out the album. “Meshell,” “Clinton Hill,” and “Mbira Song,” are dedicated respectively to Meshell Ndegeocello, Randy Weston, and Oliver Mtukudzi, all master musicians with the deepest roots,” writes Bradfield in the CD notes. “I’ve had the good fortune to play a little with each of them, and they all had a powerful impact on my musical thinking.” Purchase on Bandcamp, Amazon, or Origin Records.

 

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If you can’t make it to the Chicago Jazz Festival on August 4th or catch us in Seattle or Canada on tour later in September, you can still hear Spin live on “Starting From Zero,” recorded at Constellation in Chicago.

http://chadmccullough.bandcamp.com/album/starting-from-zero-live-in-chicago

Featuring Chad McCullough (trumpet), Clark Sommers (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums) and Geof Bradfield (tenor); recorded by Brian Schwabb.