Jazz CD Reviews

Geof Bradfield – Urban Nomad – Origin Records

No sophomore slump here

Published on July 26, 2008

Geof Bradfield – Urban Nomad – Origin Records
Geof Bradfield – Urban Nomad – Origin Records 82510, 61:30 *****:

(Geof Bradfield – tenor and soprano saxes; Ron Perrillo – piano; George Fludas – drums; Clark Sommer – bass)

Geof Bradfield’s debut, Rule of Three, was widely praised in such places and by such critics as The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff, Nate Dorward of Cadence Magazine, Downbeat, Howard Reichs in The Chicago Tribune, noted sax player and critic Jay Collins, and by many other media and reviewers.  Though I haven’t heard it, I believe them, based on the music contained in this spectacular disc.  Working with a standard jazz quartet and pretty much within the language of post-bop, Bradfield manages to make a startlingly original record.  Believe me, this is not something easily pulled off: the jazz outlets are truly littered with post-bop outings from lame to workmanlike, since this is the default music of most jazz school programs.  But Barfield absolutely nails it here.  His uncanny mastery springs, I think, not only from his incredibly wide variety of influences but also from the opportunity to play with everyone from Roscoe Mitchell, to Charlie Haden, to Tortoise, to Godspeed You Black Emperor, to Ben Monder, to Matt Wilson, to Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls, and many others.  Thus, he brings to this often shopworn idiom a left-field vibe and freshness almost always lacking in lesser efforts.

Bradfield’s tone and concept on tenor draw from such greats as Ben Webster, Gene Ammons, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and Michael Brecker, yet he has achieved a sound all his own: warm, yet forceful; fat, yet penetrating; fleet, yet always in the very center of the note.  In this last he reminds me of fellow Chicagoan Eric Anderson, though not much otherwise.  On soprano, he achieves a weighty, almost haunting, tone not unlike that of the late, great Steve Lacy, though he sounds less dry and his approach is more inside.  Thankfully, there’s not a trace of either the syrupy sweetness or the whiny harshness that plagues many players of this difficult instrument.  In fact, I’d rate him almost on the same level as the greatest soprano players, Coltrane, Shorter, and Lacy.

The six original Bradfield compositions spark with sly wit and unusual rhythmic and harmonic twists.  Though there’s not a loser among them, these stand out:  “Urban Nomad,” with its pan-Afro/Caribbean feel; the pure Bobby Watson vibe of “Janus Groove”; “I Carry Your Heart with Me,” a gorgeous ballad played with restraint and deep conviction; and the delightful waltz “Twirl,” which sounds like an instant classic.  The pedal-to-the-metal burner, “Chin Check,” though not generally my cup of tea, casually displays the astounding chops of both Bradfield and drummer Fludas.  The three standards, “You’re My Everything,” “Kids Are Pretty People” (by the brilliant Thad Jones), and Dizzy’s “Con Alma,” are all handled with respect, but each receives its own special treatment.

This band, a wonderfully cohesive unit, always listens carefully yet has the ability to embark on strikingly new directions at any moment.  Note their dead-on ensemble play coupled with stop-on-a-dime rhythmic shifts, always perfectly natural sounding, on “Con Alma.”  Wow.

Having recently completed a tour of Africa and Jordan, it will be fascinating to see how Bradfield incorporates these influences (adumbrated, perhaps, on the title cut, “Urban Nomad”) into his already full-to-bursting musical bag.  More than just a young artist to watch, Geof Bradfield with Urban Nomad vaults to the upper echelons of current jazzmen.  This is an artist and disc not to be missed.

Tracklist: Urban Nomad, Janus Groove, Ever Ever Land, I Carry Your Heart with Me, You’re My Everything, Twirl, Chin Check, Kids Are Pretty People, Con Alma

– Jan P. Dennis

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