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Volume 41. No. 2.
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Cool School

CD Review:
Bobby Bradford & the Mo’tet
Live at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Water Boy Records, 2003


Call it Cool School in a Hot Spot. Bobby Bradford & the Mo’tet Live at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art documents the confluence of two important streams in West Coast jazz. Bradford—called “one of the best trumpeters to emerge from the avant-garde” by jazz critic Scott Yanow—is an adventurous horn man who has been associated with Pomona College since 1974, serving as a lecturer in music and director of the Jazz Ensemble.
For its part, LACMA has a tradition of introducing audiences to modern music, from the now-fabled Monday Evening Concert Series straight through to today’s Friday Night Jazz Series (which hosted these sessions recorded in August 2002), a series that has made the museum a six-time national winner of the ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming.

It’s a bit of a surprise, then, that such an ideal marriage should get off to a rocky start. It takes a few bars for the sound to come together on this four-song, hour-long set, perhaps because—as the CD booklet notes—drummer William Jeffrey was caught in traffic and doesn’t enter the musical fray until well into the first song. But once the foundation is in place, Bobby Bradford & the Mo’tet Live offers an excellent set of modern jazz that illustrates the dynamic give-and-take of ace musicians on a shared musical journey.

The opening piece “Crooked Blues” gives Bradford, sax man Chuck Manning and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich room for solo improvisation between group work that mingles their lines like paint swirls in a Pollack. The rhythmic bed provided by Jeffrey, guitarist Ken Rosser, bassist Roberto Miranda and pianist Don Preston (whom many may recognize as a longtime member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) is equally dynamic. “A Little Pain” follows, offering the CD’s strongest musical theme. It pits compelling discordant harmonic intervals against what sounds suspiciously like a spy movie theme. The backbeat is funky, the mood playful; Bradford even stops by a few bars of “You’d Be So Easy to Love” as the track chases the Mo’tet’s muse.

Third track “Sideman” is the most conventionally melodic of the set and features some lovely guitar work from Rosser. The set closer, “She,” is slow and moody, reminiscent of contemporary ambient music. Miranda’s eerily beautiful bowed bass work is a standout as thick swirling sound builds to bring the set home by restating musical themes from “A Little Pain.”

Bobby Bradford & the Mo’tet Live at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is not easy listening jazz or aural wallpaper. It commands your attention and rewards the effort, a work of modern art that keeps up with its company.
—David Scott
©Copyright 2004
by Pomona College
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