Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy: I Only Have Eyes For You (ECM 1296)

 

Lester Bowie´s Brass Fantasy
I Only Have Eyes For You

Lester Bowie trumpet
Stanton Davis trumpet, fluegelhorn
Malachi Thompson trumpet
Bruce Purse trumpet
Craig Harris trombone
Steve Turre trombone
Vincent Chancey French horn
Bob Stewart tuba
Phillip Wilson drums
Recorded February 1985 at Rawlston Recording Studios, Brooklyn, New York
Engineer: Akili Walker
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Lester Bowie

This debut album from Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy is still the outfit’s best. The moment those doo-wop horns saunter in for the title cut, you know you’ve come home. Bowie not only enthralls us with his fortitude, but manages to do so while keeping alive in his muted cone the dying flame of a bygone era. But here is where Bowie & Co. break from the formula that would shade later Brass Fantasy efforts: from hereon out we get nothing but originals. Trumpeter Bruce Purse’s “Think” is the densest of these and is anchored by Bob Stewart’s wonderful tuba lines. Stewart also leaves his mark with “Nonet,” a creeping leviathan of sound that surfaces with a vivacious sense of coalescence. Brother in arms Malachi Thompson offers his “Lament,” which begins in the darkest recesses of the assembled instruments, gurgling like didgeridoos behind Bowie’s freshly gilded warbling. Bowie himself rounds out the set with two tunes. “Coming Back, Jamaica” is a respectful taste of the islands, grafted by chanting voices and supernatural lines, not to mention a tuba solo to end all tuba solos. “When The Spirit Returns,” on the other hand, is a trudge and a half, but one that shoulders a burden of hope which it offers to us with mounting selflessness.

Bowie’s Brass Fantasy is one of the more compelling jazz configurations of the 1980s and holds its rightful place in ECM’s hallowed halls. Nowhere better to start than here.

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