Without the blues, there would be no jazz, and arguably, no rock-and-roll. Think about it, if there were no rock-and-roll, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who stole every American blues lick they could find in the 1960s, would have had to get real jobs.
Jazz musicians suffer no illusions that their music wasn't born of the African-American blues tradition and its music is unequaled when it deals overtly with this tradition. Saxophonist Geof Bradfield is a skilled composer and arranger of music. Proof positive is Our Roots a tribute to the blues artist Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly.
Bradfield's talent for reimagining music, illuminated the work of Melba Liston on Melba! (Origin, 2013) and the African countries of Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, & Zimbabwe with African Flowers (Origin, 2010). This time, he brings the music back home to his hometown with Our Roots, an album which takes inspiration from Chicago saxophone legend Clifford Jordan's sadly, long out-of-print These Are My Roots: Clifford Jordan Plays Leadbelly (Atlantic, 1965).
Where Jordan utilized the chordal instruments of banjo and piano (Cedar Walton at the keys), Bradford has pared the music down further. He opens all possibilities here with trumpeter and 2014 Thelonious Monk Trumpet Competition winner Marquis Hill, trombonist Joel Adams, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall.
The music is, above all things, joyous. Opening with the traditional "Adam In The Garden," the saxophone/trombone holler (maybe holla) over tambourine announces this will be a juices-flowing experience. Bradfield has a way of arranging a composition that is technically heavy, but sonically feather light. He presents four Leadbelly tracks, "Yellow Girl," as imagined by Ornette Coleman, "Black Girl," which takes its cues from the 1960's New Thing, "Dick's Holler," served straight from the gutbucket and "Take This Hammer," a subtle swinger that sails up from New Orleans to the Windy City, the message as clear as Sandra Douglass' sung lyric from the Clifford Jordan recording.
Bradfield's roots are also revealed in his originals. "Meshell" (for Meshell Ndegeocello) with some lovely muted trumpet, "Clinton Hill" (for Randy Weston), and "Mbira Song" (for Oliver Mtukudzi). He sneaks in other roots music, referencing John Coltrane's "India" on the traditional "Before This Time Another Year." The proof of authenticity is in the sounds here and roots music is the highest compliment one can pay to this session.