The Bradford 4: A Rare Gift for Dallas
Something special happened in Dallas last night.
For a brief flash, our city was the center of free jazz--jazz's most uninhibited form. A quartet named The Bradford 4 performed at an intimate project space (Beefhaus) put on by local artist collective Art Beef. The Bradford 4 is fronted by legendary trumpeter/cornetist/composer Bobby Bradford, a man that can name Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy and Charlie Haden as former co-workers. The other three members aren't exactly lightweights either - Frode Gjerstad (saxophone/clarinet), Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums) - having individually and collectively had a hand in some of the most exciting music in contemporary jazz.
In a stark, white room full of mostly 30 somethings, Yells at Eels opened the evening with their patented, crowd-pleasing aesthetic, though, in a no less impressive turn, they sounded less visceral but more enchanting than usual.
A few feet from me, Bradford sat, relatively unnoticed, in a chair in the corner of the room. It was strange to think that within this patient stoic there roared the sound of a thousand colors--oceans of sonic motion masked beneath undisturbed stillness. You could see Bradford calculating things with his eyes. The gaze he shot spoke to wisdom and experience, a look that told you he understood more of what was going on here than the rest of us.
It was not long before The Bradford 4 moved to the front of the room and began prepping their instruments. The transition from rehearsal to performance was seamless. In fact, the quartet was a minute into playing before the room fully grasped what was happening. Soft speech and shuffling bodies were soon displaced by a cast of bobbing heads, rolling necks and satisfied smirks.
The great thing about free jazz, and most avant garde music for that matter, is that it's easily understood. Stay with me. That is, contrary to accepted belief, this is music meant for immediate digestion. It's the same sort of thrill had by kids who intentionally color outside the lines; only this is a more advanced shade of that concept. You don't have to have an education in musicology or music theory to appreciate the synthesis, juxtaposition and fantasy associated with musics like these. You just sit back, take it in, and see what happens. No need to over-think, just feel.
There are no filters here, just outpourings of energy and emotion, which makes this perfect music for children. Who better than children to judge music meant to restore brilliant ignorance back into jazz composition (that's what Coleman's Free Jazz was about, right?)? On that reasoning, the night was wildly successful. Every kiddo in attendance was up, smiling and dancing. It was the cutest shape interpretive dance ever took.