When it comes to jazz covers, those who are familiar with Bill Evans would have no problem acknowledging the creativity the pianist brought to familiar tunes such as Autumn Leaves and the theme from MASH, Suicide Is Painless.
But for many jazz listeners, the same cannot be said of trumpeter Lester Bowie. In his later years, many felt that Bowie threw away his talents when he went the “pop” route. That is a very harsh judgement to make considering that Bowie never totally went the drive-time route. While generally easy on the ears (with the Brass Fantasy coming across more like a Broadway band), Bowie was not soft or easy on the music.
I Only Have Eyes For You remains a modern-day Bowie classic. Listening to it, the song does not offer any cathartic release. Instead, it just builds and builds. And who would think of giving The Four Seasons’ Oh, What A Night such a fanciful spin that even Frankie Valli might be stumped for a moment And when Bowie covered Thriller, was it a tip of the hat to Miles
In 1984, the co-founder of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago formed Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy and the following year released I Only Have Eyes For You on the off-mainstream ECM label. And for the audience at this Bremen 1986 show, it must have been a treat as Bowie previewed four tracks from the Avant Pop album, which would be released in March - Blueberry Hill, Crazy, Macho and Oh, What A Night.
And Bowie probably had a fine sense of humour, or a sense of irony, when he closed the set coming across like a New Orleans swing band - probably as trad as he could get - on Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen. Bowie died of liver cancer in 1999.
01 When The Spirit Returns
05 I Only Have Eyes For You
06 Oh, What A Night
07 We Bop
10 Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Live in Bremen, February 20, 1986. Very good FM broadcast.