The John Carter/Bobby Bradford Quartet is getting more attention in the past three years than at almost any time in the four decades prior, thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Horwich. In 2010, Horwich—who worked with Carter and Bradford as owner of the Revelation label in the late ’60s—arranged for a three-disc set including 1969’s Seeking, 1973’s Secrets, and several previously unreleased sessions to be released as part of Mosaic’s Select series. And now, he’s reissued 1969’s Flight for Four, the group’s first album for Flying Dutchman, on his awesome International Phonograph label.
International Phonograph is turning into one of the crucial small imprints of the moment. Their first release was Bill Dixon‘s 1967 masterpiece Intents and Purposes; they followed that up with Julius Hemphill‘s Dogon A.D. (with one bonus track appended, recorded at the Dogon session but originally released on Coon Bid’ness), and organist/bandleader Clare Fischer‘s Extensions. Flight for Four is the fourth release, and like its predecessors, it’s a meticulously recreated miniature version of the original LP, gatefold, liner notes and all.
Carter and Bradford, both Texans living in Los Angeles, were recommended to each other by a mutual friend and fellow Lone Star State expatriate, Ornette Coleman, with whom Bradford had played in the early 1960s. They found themselves to be very much kindred spirits, and formed a group with bassist Tom Williamson and drummer Eldridge “Bruz” Freeman, brother of Chicago saxophonist Von Freeman. Originally working as the New Art Jazz Ensemble, they were encouraged to change their name, likely by Bob Thiele, who produced this album.
Musically, the record is breathtaking. Consistently exploratory yet melodic and bluesy enough to hold the attention of any even mildly curious listener, the five compositions crackle with energy without ever erupting into clichéd blare. It’s easy to hear why Ornette Coleman thought these two guys should work together—they’re practically two sides of the same person. Carter juggles tenor saxophone, clarinet, and flute, expressing himself in a lyrical and introspective manner on each instrument. His phrases keen and murmur, enticing the listener to ever greater focus as the tracks go on. Bradford, too, is a clear and forceful thinker on his instrument, the trumpet, never spewing streams of high notes or trilling pointlessly; he’s as suffused with the blues as his partner. Behind them, Williamson and Freeman surge and recede, dance with and around each other, and maintain a rock-solid foundation even as they do some exploring of their own. The album opens with an almost martial drum pattern which kicks off “Call to the Festival,” a piece which recalls Ornette’s work of a decade earlier, but is thoroughly modern at the same time. The hard-charging “The Second Set” and the mournful “Woman” follow, each of the four players exploring every aspect of the collective sound they’re building. On the latter track in particular, Thiele’s production choices come strongly to the fore, particularly his heavily reverbed treatment of Freeman’s drums and the massive, throbbing bass sound, all of which is impeccably captured on this amazing remaster job. And when the full ensemble comes all the way together, as on the passages that open and close “Abstractions for Three Lovers,” you almost can’t believe what you’re hearing. By the time the album ends with the clearly built-for-the-stage burner “Domino,” the only fitting response is to press “Play” again. This is an amazing, joyous record that will reward any jazz fan who seeks it out. And who knows? Maybe Horwich and International Phonograph will reissue the follow-up, 1970’s Self Determination Music, too…