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.