Saturday, October 13, 2018

CD Review: Geof Bradfield- Yes, and... Music for Nine Improvisers


Geof Bradfield
Yes, and... Music for Nine Improvisers
(Delmark) www.delmark.com

Considering this album comes from Delmark, which for decades has championed generations of free improvisers in Chicago, the title of Geof Bradfield's debut on the label gave the impression that this was going to be a session that might get pretty rowdy. Nine improvisers together can create a good ruckus. The opening "Prelude,"where Bradfield's tenor blows over a jerky vamp provided by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall, didn't dispel the preconception either. Things never boil over but Bradfield takes some great intervallic leaps and the rhythm section gradually gets freer.

But the ensemble passages in "In Flux," which immediately follows "Prelude," take a different turn. They feature an airy, colorful blend of flute, bass clarinet, trumpets and trombone. Scott Hesse's guitar solos might toy with bar lines, but there isn't a trace of skronk to what he does. Then, if things seem too light, alto saxophonist Greg Ward changes all that in his all-too-brief solo, before one of the trumpets brings it back down. Something else is afoot here.

The Yes, and... part of the title is derived from an improvisational game used by the Compass Players. This theater group that originated in 1950s Chicago and has connections to comedy legend Shelley Berman (a personal hero), Second City (a successor) and Sun Ra (who was hired once to improvise behind the actors). In the "Yes...and" game, an actor would improvise a bit and the actor that followed them would use this phrase as a springboard to what they would then say, much like improvisation.

Bradfield used this concept for the whole album, which he wrote as a suite. "Prelude" and other short tracks like "Chorale" and "Ostinato" serve as quick breakout pieces for trios of the group. The remaining pieces present the whole group working together. The 14-minute "Anamneses" is the most successful of the longer ones. The ensemble moves in and out, sounding like they're agreeing with the soloists' thoughts. Hall's recurring woodblock hits act like a bonding agent to the setting. Anna Webber's bass flute gives the first section some rich color, followed by bigger dynamics and squawks from Russ Johnson's trumpet. Bradfield wraps it up with a solo marked by some gruff vibrato.

Games of "Yes...and" probably went in directions that the players never expected. It was built on that sense of the unknown. In that same way, this album has a bit of a random quality that can be both engaging and disjointed. "Impossible Charms" leans closer to modern big band swing, with solos from trombonist Joel Adams and trumpeter Marquis Hill. The album concludes with "Forro Hermeto," a salute to the festive music of Hermeto Pascoal. It's a worthy ending, especially in the final minutes where the rhythm shifts into a highly-charged dance party. But on the basic listening level, it almost seems out of place considering all that has preceded it.

At this point, jazz music is open to all manner of composition approaches. Geof Bradfield has drawn on one from another artform that lends itself to the music. Although the results might be a bit far flung this time around, there are plenty of moments where the soloists and the ensemble passages bring it to life.

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