Lester Bowie

Odyssey of Funk & Popular Music, Vol. 1

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Songbook albums were considered cool and trendy in the late '90s, and that seemed to fit into Lester Bowie's pop-tune agenda with the Brass Fantasy. But he wouldn't be bound to the usual worshipful homages on bended knee to a single composer, directing his Brass Fantasy (brass ensemble plus drums/percussion) toward a mind-boggling assortment of sources that are often thoroughly contemporary. Hence a record that pits Cole Porter back-to-back with Marilyn Manson, Andrew Lloyd Webber with the Spice Girls, or how about Notorious B.I.G. with Giacomo Puccini! Bowie's Brass Fantasy is at the ensemble's best when they swagger irreverently through "The Birth of the Blues" or a doo wop "In the Still of the Night" -- and the Manson track, "Beautiful People," is savage, even raucous fun. Other songs are taken quite seriously; the Spice Girls' "Two Become One" becomes a sophisticated ballad chart. However, the Bowie band cannot relieve the tedium of Lloyd Webber's quasi-tango "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" by doing it relatively straight, and they seem a bit intimidated by Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" -- which is probably beyond the reach of a jazz treatment anyway. At the very least, the brasses sound fresh and interested in what they're doing, so there is pleasure to be had here.

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