Those who have never heard a performance by Lester Bowie–the Saint Louis trumpeter who cofounded the Art Ensemble of Chicago in the late 60s, and who these days most often appears with his wild and woolly large ensemble the Brass Fantasy–need to know this: his extravagant, hyperexpressive technique, so often put to the service of tradition-smashing structures and iconoclastic lyricism with the Art Ensemble, remains the most important trumpet style of the last 35 years, a bridge from the rule-breaking imagery of Miles Davis and Don Cherry to the free-ranging virtuosity of such modern explorers as Paul Smoker and Dave Douglas. Those already familiar with Lester Bowie need to know only this: he makes a very rare appearance in his former hometown next week. Bowie quite comfortably commands the ancient jazz idioms of the 20s and 30s, and this legacy informs his most advanced improvising; at times the past seems to hover over his solos like a proud-papa ghost. With the Art Ensemble, he regularly soared beyond metric constraints and conventional tonality. But his most provocative abstractions have almost always embodied the lineage to which he so forcefully belongs: Bowie’s blue-in-the-face, buckled-knees blasts crystallize his debt to Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, and Buck Clayton. Bowie will perform with the Ritual Trio–led by percussionist Kahil El’Zabar and featuring bassist Malachi Favors (also of the Art Ensemble) and saxophonist Ari Brown–in what amounts to another sort of homecoming, since Bowie’s trumpet was the lead voice in the original incarnation of this trio back in 1985. Both Bowie and the Trio will also join in with the playwright/essayist/novelist/poet Ntozake Shange, who will read from her work. The mix-and-match aspect of the evening makes a good debut for Traffic, an eight-concert series organized by El’Zabar that at its best will merge music and the spoken word. Monday, 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted; 312-335-1650.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Lester Bowie photo by D. Bowie.