Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy

The Fire This Time

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The Fire This Time Review

by Michael G. Nastos

During this live recording of the Brass Fantasy at the Moonwalker Club in Aarburg, Switzerland, Lester Bowie and his nonet go through many phases of jazz, funk, and progressive music. Old favorites of the Brass Fantasy are complemented by some new material. Arrangements are assigned to notables such as brother Byron Bowie, Steve Turre, E.J. Allen, and Earl McIntyre. Trumpeters Lester Bowie, Allen, Gerald Brazel, and Tony Barrero are joined by Vincent Chancey on French horn, Frank Lacy and Luis Bonilla on trombone, Bob Stewart on tuba, Vinnie Johnson on drums (replacing Phillip Wilson who was murdered in the streets of N.Y.C. weeks before this performance), and Famoudou Don Moye on other percussions. Of the well-known pieces, there are non-vocal versions of the soul ballad "The Great Pretender" and the slow gospel dirge blues "For Louis" (Armstrong) dedicated to Wilson. Funk, in its myriad conjugations, rears up on the fun Ray Charles number "Night Time," and on the harder, marching band-like Michael Jackson tune "Remember the Time," as well as on Jackson's hot-to-heavy dance tune "Black or White." The hard-driving Latin funk of Bruce Purse's "Night Life" sports more soloing from Allen, Lacy, and Lester. At their most fervently swinging, Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Three for the Festival" is a little ragged, but pretty hot featuring a solo from Johnson. Jimmie Lunceford's "Siesta for the Fiesta" is the surprise; it's a jumping chart with a funky edge and outer limits solos from Chancey and Bonilla. The heaviest pieces are "Strange Fruit" and Allen's "Journey Towards Freedom." On the latter, a Billie Holiday classic about a lynching in the south, Bowie terms racism "the crime of the century" with an abstract intro leading to a solemn, hymn-like theme and a whip or pistol-shot sequence; the music tells stark tales of what has not changed, and all without speaking a word. The "Journey" is a heavy water experiment, a 6/8 strutting, juggernaut melody with a tuba ostinato that has a distinctly forward motion, counterpointed horns that call out/respond in loud symmetry, and a rather seriously wrought solo by Stewart. A polyphonic coda concludes this stunning piece of modern creative music for the ages. The variations on themes and styles, and a sense of utter outrage, as well as good feelings toward those in their family and in the audience, earmark this session as one of the most important in the Brass Fantasy's history and development.

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