Bradford's best was yet to come as he again teamed up with John Carter who by this time had devoted himself almost entirely to playing clarinet. Performed live between 1979 and 1982, Carter and Bradford recorded Tandem
(Emanem), a dazzlingly virtuosic duet album that spans two discs. A uniquely challenging environment in which to play, the music was a result of both pure improvisation and prepared lead sheets. Driven in part by the harsh economics of taking a quartet on the road, Bradford and Carter worked on duo format pieces and rehearsed them the same way they'd rehearsed quartet pieces. Bradford describes the track 'Tandem' as being really outlandish...(and) insane to play." Indeed. More conservative writers may even question the jazz credentials of such a piece. Taking a more thoughtful approach to the matter one might instead question the credentials of the actual word 'jazz.' When the word no longer encapsulates the music it purports to define, then perhaps it's time for the 'word' to be ditched as the 'music' extends beyond it. "Tandem' is a masterpiece in modern improvised music. Partly comical, sometimes impish, often confrontational, always compelling, 'Tandem' pushes both men to new heights of instrumental virtuosity and musical clarity. Its jazz roots are unmistakeable but it's as though we've cut loose in a little dinghy from the main ship, the further we drift away the smaller the ship becomes, the more empowered and determined the dinghy is. The bare bones format of the duo brought out new tonal possibilities, mistakes even, from both Bradford and Carter, and in the process an enlightenment of the very act of creation.
"When you play in that format you're telling the listener "I'm trying to get your ear here." In the absence of a rhythm section, all these big open spaces have to be dealt with. The piece itself and your own imagination and your awareness of what was happening helped you learn more about your instrument and each other."
Bradford and Carter were now exploring the kind of music that modernist European composers had been mining, such as Luciano Berio, whose compositions for solo instruments, Sequenza, breathes the same oxygen as the miraculous music we hear on Tandem
. It's not so much a Blues Connotation as a blues annotation.
In March 1991 John Carter passed away aged just 61, seven months before David Murray's Death Of A Sideman
was recorded. It ranks as one of Bradford's greatest and most glorious moments on record as both composer and soloist. The album is suffused with a hard-won musical dignity and valour, perhaps the ultimate testament to Bradford's accomplishments. Whilst a sombre yet dignified portrait of Carter adorns the inner sleeve, Bradford explains it is not a tribute album, but rather an album that coincided with both the untimely passing of Carter and Bradford's musical thinking at the time.
"A lot of people thought there was something sad about that record and obliquely, there was some reference to John Carter but I'd been working on that music for some time. It was a serious documentation...and I'm glad we did it." Lisa Tefo's liner notes to Death Of A Sideman
poignantly ask the reader "Does a life devoted to art have any meaning, in the face of death?." Many years from now when we look back at the entire career of trumpeter/cornetist/composer/educator Bobby Bradford, Tefo's inquiry could be rephrased to echo the thoughts of Luciano Berio when he declared:
"The work stops, it doesn't end"
Select Discography As Leader Love's Dream
(Emanem, 1975) Vols. 1 & 2 with John Stevens
(Nessa) Bobby Bradford & the Mo'tet Lost in L.A.
(Black Saint, 1984) Midnight Pacific Airwaves
With John Carter Flight for Four
(Flying Dutchman, 1969) Self Determination Music
(Flying Dutchman, 1970) Secrets
(Revelation, 1973) No U-TurnLive in Pasadena, 1975
(Dark Tree, 2015) Comin' On
(hat ART, 1989) Tandem 1 & 2
With David Murray Murray's Steps
(Black Saint, 1983) Death of a Sideman