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BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
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.
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 label. Hill 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 Leadbelly, Our 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.
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.
Featuring Chad McCullough (trumpet), Clark Sommers (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums) and Geof Bradfield (tenor); recorded by Brian Schwabb.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing MacArthur Fellow Steve Coleman for the Chicago Reader’s Artist on Artist series. Steve was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, and the folks at The Reader were good enough to transcribe and publish our extensive conversation here: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/steve-coleman-interview-m-base-five-elements-synovial-geof-bradfield/Content?oid=18504926