Reviews of PURPLE GUMS

Cadence, February 2004, Vol. 30, No. 2

By David Lewis

This most unusual three horn configuration creates music of great lyricism, from the free counterpoint of tuba, trumpet, ad tenor sax in "Baleen & Porpoises" to the circular pulse of "Falling Water." Bradford and Roper provide rich counterpoint to the abstract voices of the horns with atmospheric spoken word performances that animate "Purple Gums," "A Boy Like You," "You A Square" and "Li'l Sister." Like "Bugle Boys" all these spoken word performances are delivered with a blues pulse that places this unique trio at the heard of the tradition. That such rich instrumentals as "Patois," "Falling Water," and "Procession Of The Pall" do not attain the power of the Blues based pieces is an indication of how special this project is. Among the year's best.

by Alex Henderson

The general idea behind Asian Improv Records is Asian musicians playing experimental jazz, most of it on the avant-garde side and most of it with a definite AACM influence. But having a general idea and having firm, unbreakable rules are two different things. While Asian Improv is an Asian-run company, it doesn't exclude white, black, or Latino improvisers — being Asian-friendly isn't the same as being Asian-only. On Purple Gums, only one of the three participants is Asian: tenor saxman/flutist Francis Wong. The other two — veteran cornetist Bobby Bradford and tuba player/percussionist William Roper — are black. Together, the three jazzmen emphasize wind instruments; piano and bass are excluded, and the only percussion comes when Roper puts down his tuba. Purple Gums documents a live set at San Francisco State University in 2002, where the trio exclusively performs original material. And like a lot of Asian Improv releases, Purple Gums has an AACM mentality; in other words, Bradford, Wong, and Roper provide avant-garde jazz that makes extensive use of space and is reflective rather than confrontational and pensive instead of harsh or in-your-face. By hard bop standards, these inside/outside performances are left of center; by avant-garde standards, they are relatively accessible. Most of the tunes are instrumental, although the trio also offers some spoken word items — most notably, "You a Square" and "A Boy Like You" (both of which feature Roper as a vocalist). While the latter addresses the more subtle forms of discrimination, "You a Square" is a humorous put-down of a painfully unsoulful, unhip musician. Purple Gums falls short of exceptional; nonetheless, it's a solid and respectable outing for the three risk-taking explorers.

Chicago Sun Times, October 27, 2003

2003 Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival

By Kevin Whitehead

...The club's air-conditioning system competed with the chants a bit, and played even more havoc with the evening's most entertaining set, by the California trio Purple Gums. It was organized by tuba player William Roper, sporting an incongruous Davy Crockett hat, and featured Francis Wong on tenor saxophone and the revered cornet player Bobby Bradford.

Wong and Bradford blended beautifully, and the leader has a big, wall-shaking tone and impressive range on tuba. Even better were Roper's several monologues, delivered under the music. Alas, they could be hard to hear; miking problems were such that no one from management seemed to note his request that the AC be turned off. But his confessional spiel on the "cultural dissonance" of an African-American man electing to wear a coon-skin cap was uproariously funny, and had wider implications regarding ethnicity, assimilation and mass culture..., August 2003

By Rex Butters

The San Francisco-based Asian Improv label continues to release remarkable sessions with Purple Gums, a wind trio with Bobby Bradford, William Roper, and Francis Wong. The resulting disc shows a band deeply attuned to each other's whims, and skillful in extending musical conversations.

"Baleen and Porpoises" begins with Roper's low notes on tuba. Bradford enters with a cornet fanfare, then Wong, and the two of them chase each other like pups. Roper's round smooth tone and fluency makes him an equal in these group improvisations. Wong introduces "Patois" with short bursts of notes, soon to be joined by Bradford playing patterns that Wong harmonizes and imitates, with Roper adding percussion. When Roper plays a short figure on tuba, they continue to play their close listening game.

The first of Roper's spoken pieces, the title track, tells an unsavory story of guy "in the mood," but the otherwise attractive women he meets have advanced gingivitis: purple gums. Bradford backs the funny monologue bluesily, and all three improvise between Roper's recitations. "A Boy Like You," again has Wong and Bradford in uncanny co-creation with Roper providing percussion, then tuba.

"Bugle Boys" starts out in a blues funk phase that recalls the World Saxophone Quartet. Wong plays a blues tenor while Bradford and Roper improvise short bursts. Bradford plays some reveille variations with Roper, then Wong and Bradford get back to their soul riff. "You a Square" features Roper trying to give a friend a clue. Wong on flute works with Bradford, and when Roper joins, they play funny little pizzicato variations. "Falling Water" shows the musicians at their most empathetic, gracefully branching out and maintaining common ground.

"Li'l Sister" has Roper reciting gospel cliches while Wong and Bradford dig into some gospel variations. Bradford intones a more earthy sentiment and the gospel becomes the blues. The serious "Procession of the Pall" closes the set with a last look at group improvisation well shaped, crafted and coherent.

AsianWeek, Oct. 11 - Oct. 17, 2002

2002 San Francisco Asian American Jazz Festival

By Titania Leung Inglis, Special to AsianWeek

...The weekend concluded with an all-brass set by Wong, cornetist and trumpeter Bradford and tuba player Roper. Their colorful hats, reportedly supplied by the dynamic Roper, added a clownish touch to the proceedings, and the music often followed suit. Between more traditional jazz songs, Wong and Bradford accompanied Roper's deep rumble of a voice as the tuba player wove a tale of the time he asked Horiuchi for advice on his love life, sending the audience into peals of laughter with his comic timing. Roper's other antics included playing piano and tuba at the same time, and using his tuba as an unsettling, echoing megaphone to announce, "I hear voices."


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