New Jazz Release: Geof Bradfield | “Melba!” – Coming April 16th, 2013

“Melba!,” A Tribute To Melba Liston By Saxophonist/Composer Geof Bradfield, To Be Released On April 16, 2013


Saxophonist/composer
Geof Bradfield‘s new CD “Melba!, “ which Origin Records will release on
April 16, has been a long time coming. Bradfield’s suite for jazz
septet, a tribute to the great yet underheralded arranger/trombonist
Melba Liston (1926-1999), received its premiere performances last summer
in Chicago and other Midwest cities. It was supported by a commission
from Chamber Music America’s 2011 New Jazz Works program (with funding
by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation), allowing Bradfield to research
the rich Liston trove at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Black
Music Research.

And before that, there was a deep and
long-standing personal connection with Melba’s music. Bradfield had
discovered her through such landmark Randy Weston recordings as “Uhuru
Afrika” (1960) and “The Spirits of Our Ancestors” (1991). “When I came
up in the 1980s and was learning to play, everything seemed to be about
extreme instrumental virtuosity, ” he says. “The music of Randy and
Melba was more complex. It had color and depth and a range of emotional
expression. It had a real human element.”

For the concert
performances and recording of “Melba!, ” Bradfield called on trumpeter
Victor Garcia, trombonist Joel Adams, pianist Ryan Cohan, guitarist Jeff
Parker, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer George Fludas. This is the
same group (minus Adams) that appeared on the saxophonist’s acclaimed
2010 Origin Records release, “African Flowers, ” which itself was
influenced by the Weston/Liston recordings.

“I loved the way
their music tied a lot of things together: African music and Duke
Ellington and bebop harmony and the extreme use of dissonance, which in
Liston’s hands could suggest Stravinsky, ” says Bradfield. “Their music
transcended craft. They created a path from one form of music, and one
aspect of culture, to the other. They showed you how everything fit
together.”

The movements trace the musical arc of Liston’s life,
from “Kansas City Child” and “Central Avenue” to “Dizzy Gillespie, ”
“Randy Weston, ” “Detroit/Kingston, ” and “Homecoming.” Closing out the
CD, vocalist Maggie Burrell delivers a majestic version of “Let me not
lose this dream, ” with text by Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas
Johnson and piano-bass accompaniment.

Perhaps in part because
she was so private, Liston is not as familiar to average listeners as
other great jazz arrangers of her era such as Gil Evans and Oliver
Nelson. Bradfield hopes to help change that with “Melba!, ” which
illuminates what a remarkable individual she was in achieving such
success as a woman in a man’s world and as a bold innovator with her own
style and methodology.

“Through the course of six carefully
composed movements, ” wrote Howard Reich in his Chicago Tribune review
of the septet’s September 2012 Green Mill performance, “‘Melba!’ evoked
the spirit of Liston’s times but still carried the hallmarks of
Bradfield’s musical language. The long lines, complex themes and
meticulous structuring of this score pointed to the high craft of
Bradfield’s writing.”

The premiere of “Melba!” capped a banner
year for Bradfield. One of a handful of saxophonists who brings the same
intensity and edgy power to soprano as he does to tenor, he contributed
memorable performances on both horns to standout albums by three of the
Windy City’s finest: bassist Marlene Rosenberg, trumpeter Tito
Carrillo, and guitarist John Moulder. He also produced singer Rebecca
Sullivan’s well-received debut, “This Way, This Time.”

The
42-year-old Houston native, who last year was named an assistant
professor of saxophone and jazz studies at Northern Illinois University,
continues the pace in 2013 with several projects. A new recording by
Ba(SH), Bradfield’s collective trio with Clark Sommers and drummer Dana
Hall, will be released by Origin this summer. He plays bass clarinet on
the third album by bassist and rising star Matt Ulery’s Loom, out on
Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf label in June. Bradfield also contributes to
forthcoming releases by Ryan Cohan (Motéma) and Dana Hall (Origin).

With the CD release imminent, “Melba!” continues to occupy much of
Bradfield’s attention. He and his septet will perform the suite at the
Green Mill 6/1 as well as later this summer at the Chicago Jazz
Festival, which will present him at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium
Park 8/30 as part of a triple bill (with Wadada Leo Smith and Charles
Lloyd).

“I feel very fortunate to write for and perform with all
of the musicians on this recording, each of whom brings a very personal
voice to the group, ” Bradfield wrote in his CD notes. “Their creative
input along the way transformed the dots and lines on the sterile page,
“bringing ‘Melba!’ to life”—and Liston’s soulful legacy to the fore.

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