Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Geof Bradfield: Melba!

Origin Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Melba!

Unless you’re a senior jazz fan, or you “cheated” and checked Geof Bradfield’s website, you probably don’t have any idea who “Melba” is, or was ... which is a shame. 

Melba Liston was born in 1926, loved jazz, became enamored with the trombone (“chose it because it’s such a pretty horn”) and became a professional musician at age 16. She didn’t merely play; she became one of the finest copyists and arrangers during the Big Band years, and worked with some of that era’s finest jazz musicians and bands. The names Gerald Wilson, Dexter Gordon, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and Randy Weston — among many, many others — should ring the necessary bells. Liston arranged for, or played with, all of them during her career. 

Bear in mind that female musicians, particularly when on the road, were almost unknown during that time period.

Tenor sax artist and composer Geof Bradfield is well aware of Liston’s contribution to jazz, and he created this tribute album to honor her memory. He acknowledges a debt to Randy Weston, who Liston and her music to her attention. Her early career was oriented toward the bebop and post-bop genres, but many consider her finest work to have resulted from her long-term association with Weston, and the arrangements she produced during that period. Bradfield’s interaction with Weston led him to dig in to Liston’s scores and work in great detail; this disc is the result.

The album more or less follows the timeline of Melba’s career. Seven “movements” begin with “Kansas City Child,” which dates back to her early years. “Central Avenue” follows, covering 1940s Los Angeles, when she was working with Gerald Wilson and making arrangements for luminaries such as Mary Lou Williams. 

“Dizzy Gillespie” moves into the 1950s, when the Latin influence emerged and the U.S. State Department became involved, using jazz for political purposes on a world-wide basis. Bradfield uses trumpeter Victor Garcia and drummer George Fludas to project the Brazilian influence that became predominant during this period. “Randy Weston” covers an interval of 40 years, and related movements — “Solo Sax,” “Detroit/Kingston” and “Homecoming” — are the album’s most lyrical treats.

The program concludes with Liston’s inner prayer: “Let Me Not Lose My Dream.”

She was quite a lady, and this is quite an album.

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