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GEOF BRADFIELD’S MELBA! In 2008 Chicago reedist Geof Bradfield embarked on a state department-sponsored tour of Africa under the leadership of pianist Ryan Cohan, and the experience was unforgettable. But apart from his encounters with citizens of Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Kenya—and learning about the history and culture first-hand—the trip inspired him to create his dazzling suite African Flowers, a project that awakened in him a previously untapped skill for programmatic writing. This evening Bradfield shares his latest suite—one he composed for the criminally overlooked trombonist and arranger Melba Liston, who died in 1999 at the age of 73. In the 40s Liston arranged for pianist and bandleader Mary Lou Williams before settling in Los Angeles where she worked extensively with Gerald Wilson and in the 50s she composed music and arranged for Dizzy Gillespie big band. She also arranged soul sessions at Stax and Motown and spent time in Jamaica as an educator and a film composer, but some of her most enduring work remains the brilliantly vibrant, multi-layered arrangements she created for pianist and bandleader Randy Weston.

Bradfield’s suite Melba!, captured on a superb 2013 recording for Origin Records, includes original pieces that reflect all of these chapters in Liston’s colorful career, with evocative heapings of old-school bebop, Latin jazz flourishes, and the Moroccan modes explored by Weston. Tonight most of the players from the recording will reconvene to perform the entire suite: pianist Cohan, trumpeter Victor Garcia, trombonist Joel Adams, guitarist Mike Allemana, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer George Fludas. Jazz Festival audiences will get a special treat for this concert, though, with the legendary Weston sitting in as a guest on a couple of numbers, truly bringing the music full circle.
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