John Carter and Bobby Bradford - "Karen on Monday" (The Complete Revelation Sessions)
Clarinetist John Carter and trumpeter Bobby Bradford have never gotten their due. Let’s leave aside Carter’s American Roots and Folklore series, whose five volumes detail the roots of jazz like nothing else. Before these groundbreaking 1980s albums, on which Bradford participates, the duo was already making fantastic improvised music. This three-disc set, the latest installment in Mosaic’s Select series, offers their two albums for the small California-based Revelation label and almost two hours of previously unreleased material in an excellent and well-documented package befitting Mosaic’s status as one of the best jazz reissue labels.
The recordings span the decade from 1969-1979, which saw the pair move from post-Ornette Coleman free-bop into more experimental terrain. The Coleman connection is no coincidence — Carter played with the saxophonist in the late 1940s, Bradford in the early 1960s when Don Cherry was temporarily out of the picture. Their first collaboration for Revelation (there were two contemporaneous albums on Flying Dutchman) paid homage to Coleman. The pianoless quartet put more of the “bop” back in free-bop on a tune like “In the Vineyard,” but they take liberties with time and meter on the bluesily modal “Karen on Monday.” Bassist Tom Williamson and drummer Bruz Freeman — brother of saxophonist Von Freeman — provide support in this context, relaxed but swinging all the time; it is also revelatory to hear Carter on alto, tenor and flute, instruments that would later disappear from his palette.
At the other end of the spectrum is a previously unreleased 1979 duo session. Stripped down to just the trumpet and clarinet, the spare recording is ideal for the richly multi-phonic music they’re laying down. Here, Carter limits himself to clarinet, which isn’t really a limit at all given the orchestral textures he always conjures. Yet, bebop hasn’t been abandoned entirely; rather, it’s been subsumed, incorporated into a framework rife with other techniques. The recording is clear, and despite some hum and a fair amount of bleed-through, invitingly transparent.
The 1971 and 1972 sessions, which birthed the pairs second album, Secrets, inhabit a middle ground between the polar opposites at either end of the decade. The addition of piano — alternately from Bill Henderson and Nate Morgan — changes the group’s sound considerably, and the music veers between meter and meterlessness with surprising speed. Secrets and its associated material presents a kind of “real” freedom that has been forgotten in these days of traditions carved in granite, and to hear these musicians blur boundaries while remaining inside chord changes is refreshing.