Lester Bowie / Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy

When the Spirit Returns

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

This final outing by Lester Bowie's pet project, the Brass Fantasy, was recorded in 1997 as the second of two albums to come from six days of studio sessions. As is typical of Bowie, he chose -- via the critical and aesthetic sensibilities his 15-year-old daughter -- a program of pop, jazz, and R&B hits, most of them coming from the artists of the era: Notorious B.I.G., Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Bob Marley, Babyface, India Arie, and others. The Brass Fantasy manifesto was always to record popular music as part of the historical notion that jazz once was popular music. Unlike a lot of the Brass Fantasy outings, the humor, grace, style, and warmth of these sessions are completely consistent. There are no tracks that miss here, whether it's "Count on Me," or Biggie Smalls' "Biggie's Ride," or an a lush, gorgeous, and deeply moving rendition of "Unchained Melody." The aplomb, taste, and exquisite sense of empathy for this music is everywhere in Bowie's arrangement, and his in the grain of his soloist's voices. This is a fitting final project, and easily the most consistent and realized of all the Brass Fantasy albums.

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