Bold as brass
Kenny Mathieson discovers how Lester Bowie makes his fantasy real.
The band stroll on stage, nine guys in dazzling bright green suits. And check those instruments — three trumpets doubling flugelhom, two trombones, one doubling sea-shells, French horn, tuba. drums and percussion. What we have here is a genuine Brass Fantasy, straight out of the head of a wiry, enigmatic little cat named Lester Bowie.
Lester's arrival on stage, resplendent in red shirt, purple trousers. and gold coat, makes the rest of the band look plain. The fashion note changes again in the second set, with the group in silky white and the man himself in shimmering silver. It may be jazz we are hearing. but this is one band who clearly believe that visual display is all part of the package.
That was back in 1988, in London's Festival Hall, but Scottish audiences are about to get their ﬁrst experience of the Fantasy. Bowie, the man who made the lab coat a hip outﬁt (long before Devo had their moment of fame) in The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, acknowledges the importance in his own mind of dressing speciﬁcally for performance (‘If the audience wore blindfolds, it wouldn't matter how we looked‘), but it is the sounds that really matter when the show starts.
Onstage, the trumpeter is constantly animated. conducting the band one moment, falling into a little two-step shufﬂe the next, or suddenly ﬂipping into a Dervish spin and ﬁring off a stream of fractured trumpet phrases over the band‘s precise unison themes.
Bowie came up through the avant-garde ferment of the late 60s and 70s with the Art Ensemble. but has
explored a different vein with the Brass Fantasy, overlapping the free-ranging, exploratory probings of the AEC with a more populist, often lusth orchestrated instrumental mix, and drawing on a bizarre range of material, from classic jazz standards to songs by Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
‘Well, only certain songs will work the way we do them, but I try not to limit myself in terms ofthe music i chose to play. Whatever we play, though, we always try to play it our way — even if a tune is associated with another artist, we always try to stamp our own personalities on it. I love Michael Jackson‘s music, and I love the doo-wop tunes we play. That was the music i grew up with, and Buck Ram. who had a big hit with ‘The Great Pretender', well, he was my Rodgers and Hammerstein.‘
Bowie has always carried a torch for innovation (although the Art Ensemble are no longer as, musically radical an outﬁt as was once the case). but his musical search has equally always been plugged into the long tradition of what he calls Great Black Music. but given a distinctive musical spin. He has
been critical of the jazz revivalism of the 80s, and remains committed to jazz ‘as an original and exciting music. not just an imitation of something you have heard many times before’.
That is the spirit he tries to conjure up with the Brass Fantasy, and he will be helped this time around by the presence of singers Fontella Bass (the trumpeter’s ex-wife), Amina Claudine Myers (who also appeared in the Art Ensemble's tribute to the Chicago blues during the Glasgow Jazz Festival this year), and the remarkable David Peaston.
The band’s last album, The Fire This Time. is a concert performance recorded in the midst of the Los
Angeles riots around the Rodney King trial, and reflects his beliefthat ‘I don‘t see how you can play any kind of improvised music that‘s meaningful and personal without a political element entering into it. in fact. the music ofthe Brass Fantasy has always been about opening minds to all kinds of things, including politics, but in a positive way.‘
Lester Bowie Is Brass Fantasy play at The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh on Fri 22.
Emmi! Grossed out
Joining the various new winter seasons already underway, the BT Scottish Ensemble embarks on it main Glasgow and Edinburgh concerts this issue with a number of first. For
; it format.
1 one by a new composer.’
. V . ‘The Ensemble asked for a concerto i grosso,’ explains Beamish, ‘as they ; thought it would be interesting to hear
The inspiring forces behind the new l piece, however, go back further in 3 musical history than the 17th and 18th ? centuries. ‘The material I’ve used is i based on madrigals by the , Renaissance composer Gesualdo, the
getting used to incorporating his music into my music.’
For ‘Concerto Grosso’ she has taken two Besualdo madrigals and one sacred motet. ‘Some of it you can hear clearly slipping in and out, while I also use some in the structure.’ There are five movements in all, the central slow section being taken from the sacred motet. The soloist group is mainly first and second violins and cello, but,
a start, it’s the eneemble’s first ? Italian Prince who was responsible for she says, ‘l’ve also used lot of
season with it new nane, the first i the murder of his wife and her lover. different textures.’ If you like the
with recently appointed Artistic It’s all to do with an opera I’ve been sound of it, fancy being involved with Director Clio Gould and the working on with David Pownall, author a new opera and have a bit of spare performances also give audiences of the play “Music To Murder By”. Ls cash, wall, Sally Banish would like to their first chance to hear Sally yet, the duo still need a commissioner hear from you. (Gaol Main)
Beamlsh’s latest work, the specially for the opera, but, says Beamlsh. 'III The IT Scottish Ensemble play comissmﬂl Concerto 6:3 Grosso 0p 6 lo 11’, the new piece also the meantime, the Gesualdo material Stevenson lull, Glasgow on Fri 22 and i Sitting alongside "alder! 00mm takes the baroque concerto style as is continually surfacing and I’m Queen’s Hell, Edinburgh on Sun 24.
0N FOLLOWING PAGES: AIMEE MANN O MIDNIGHT OIL O BETTY CARTER
The List 22 October—4 November I993 31