Unlike his cohorts in the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, trumpeter
Lester Bowie (1941), who relocated from St Louis to Chicago in 1965,
was grounded in the jazz tradition. Unlike Roscoe Mitchell, Bowie maintained
a close relationship with the idea of music as fun. In a sense, he represented
Mitchell's alter-ego, complementing the partner's classical ambitions with a
more populist approach.
Nonetheless, Bowie was one of the most daring trumpters of his generation,
and one of the few to adopt free jazz, capable of producing a broad range of
Bowie's debut album, Numbers 1 & 2 (august 1967), contained two lengthy
free-form jams that basically previewed the Art Ensemble Of Chicago (one is
a trio with bassist Malachi Favors and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, and the
other one is a quartet with Joseph Jarman).
His sense of humour emerged from Fast Last (september 1974), an odd collection of different styles, highlighted (on the serious front) by a duet with altoist Julius Hemphill, the 13-minute Fast Last C,
and Rope-A-Dope (june 1975), with Favors, Don Moye, drummer Charles Bobo Shaw and trombonist Joseph Bowie.
These albums amply betrayed his tender love for blues and gospel music, a love
that blossomed on The Fifth Power (1978), a quintet featuring altoist
Arthur Blythe, pianist Amina Myers, Favors and drummer Philip Wilson that reworked a gospel traditional into an 18-minute juggernaut; while the same quintet
crafted the double LP African Children (april 1978) that synthesized all
his disparate influences and moods in 20-minute pieces such as
Amina, Chili MacDonald and For Fela.
The Great Pretender (june 1981) marked the beginning of his conversion to a
more radio-friendly form of gospel-jazz-rock fusion, that, despite the
parenthesis of All the Magic (june 1982), whose second disc is a suite of
brief satirical trumpet solos, led to Bowie's artistic demise.
Whether it was a case of crossover or sell-out,
the Brass Fantasy (a brass octet
of four trumpets, two trombones, French horn and tuba plus a drummer)
that debuted with I Only Have Eyes for You (february 1985) and
Avant Pop (march 1986)
ended up playing mainly pop, jazz, funk and blues covers. The best original
material was provided by trombonist Steve Turre.
Bowie was also a member of the Leaders, a supergroup formed by
tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman with
alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe,
pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Don Moye that debuted
with Mudfoot (june 1986). Their second album
Out Here Like This (february 1987) contained Bowie's Zero.
Bowie rejoined them for Unforeseen Blessings (december 1988).
Lester Bowie died in 1999.
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