Line Space Line played host to an Improviser’s Summit, presenting reed king Vinny Golia and the masterful Bobby Bradford to a room crowded up against the black walls of the Salvation Theater. Billed as an evening of duets and solos, the longtime LA mainstays mostly played together and used written arrangements as their launching pads. Golia, surrounded by a variety of reeds, proved a study in contrasts with Bradford and his lone cornet. Golia’s gargantuan technique and passion blew sparks all over the stage. He created yards of music with circular breathing on the smaller reeds, and made his custom contrabass saxophone sound graceful. His composing and playing include elements of classical and world musics as well as jazz.
Mississippi born Bradford played cornet since 1949. He knew Ornette Coleman in Texas and ran into him in LA on the late lamented red car trolley in 1953. Drafted into the Air Force, Bradford lost his seat in Coleman’s quartet to Don Cherry. Out of the Air Force, he rejoined Ornette just as the iconoclast took a sabbatical from recording. He settled in LA to raise his family and taught at Pomona College. During his tenure, his students included David Murray, James Newton, Mark Dresser, Arthur Blythe, and Walter Lowe. It was Coleman who initiated his long and fruitful association with the late John Carter. Bradford’s playing references blues, manipulates textures, springs from the unexpected, and moves easily from virtuosity to understatement.
From their opening piece they showed themselves also to be great listeners. Golia started out breathy on the sopranino blowing overtones. Bradford blew a few notes on muted cornet, and they’re off. Apparently freely improvising, the duo frequently hit the same notes, and mimicked each other’s lines.
Possibly with Carter in mind, Golia concentrated on clarinet on several pieces. Bradford worked some plunger mute, achieving vocal qualities. They played a piece with an Ornetteish theme and while Bradford played an impressive tangle of notes, Golia maintained his runaway train pacing.
They represented Carter with their interpretation of his ballad, “And She Speaks.” They played the theme in unison, and Bradford took a warm solo; then, repeating the theme, Golia then took a very introspective solo. The theme again, and Golia moved in and out of multiple voicings. From the banter onstage it seemed Golia knew Bradford’s discography better than Bradford. No stranger to his recordings, Golia recorded a double CD tribute to John Carter, Commemoration.
During a piece showcasing Golia’s contrabass sax, Bradford shaped a long exposition above his explorations of the lower register. Finishing with “Sidestep,” Golia returned to the clarinet and both players unleashed gale force solos, with several audience members humming along to the theme. Even with a standing ovation and shouted requests, the two maestros called it a night, aware that they had used up most of the air in the theater.