Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy: Avant Pop (ECM 1326)

Lester Bowie´s Brass Fantasy
Avant Pop

Lester Bowie trumpet
Stanton Davis trumpet
Malachi Thompson trumpet
Rasul Siddik trumpet
Steve Turre trombone
Frank Lacy trombone
Vincent Chancey French horn
Bob Stewart tuba
Phillip Wilson drums
Recorded March 1986, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy is all about joy. The joy of making music, the joy of turning the popular inside out, revealing the beating heart of that which makes sound accessible. In this respect, the title of Avant Pop might as well mark the genre that this most talented trumpeter forged. And the sound? Aromatic, clean as a whistle, and affirmative. What with the heaping portions of brass sandwiched between Bob Stewart’s gorgeous tuba bass lines and Phillip Wilson’s otherworldly percussive colors, something’s bound to move you, sparking a dormant memory into animation.

Bowie pulls out all the stops on this album, blatting with ease through the opening waves of “The Emperor” and on into a lyrical rendition of “Saving All My Love For You.” The latter’s big band sound hits you right in the gut of your denial. Like a swing you never want to jump out of, it builds to a swooning climax. The vocal colors of “B Funk” add another spice to the stew and leave us spinning on “Blueberry Hill.” Stewart digs deep here and follows Bowie wherever he leads. Things get a little swanky in “Crazy,” while homage is the name of the game in “Macho (Dedicated To Machito),” which spins from a prayerful bell an infectious montuno vamp that would have made the Afro-Cuban jazz master proud. This is followed by “No Shit,” which besides having the honor of boasting the only curse word in the ECM lexicon (?) also gives us the album’s catchiest motif—a cross between “Pride and Joy” and a distorted C jam blues. “Oh What A Night” provides an irresistible and punchy conclusion.

Never has Bowie sounded so tonally corpulent, a feat only underlined by the superb engineering. And while he may blow shooting stars across a universe of familiar tunes, in this context we cannot help but hear them anew. The album is indeed a fantasy, not only in its backward glance but also in its very revival of popular song, which speaks to the sometimes-magical escapism of the form. Rather than enhance it, Bowie seems intent on bringing it down to earth in a crash landing of goodness. The breadth of idioms represented on Avant Pop is inspiring and barely scratches the surface of his legacy of wit and good cheer.

As epic as it is intimate, this is a sonic child that could only have been nurtured by a mind like his.

<< Arvo Pärt: Arbos (ECM 1325 NS)
>> Jon Hassell: Power Spot (ECM 1327)

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