Lester Bowie, whose trumpet playing sometimes sounds like an array of intelligible grunts and groans, says he's trying to expand the range of his instrument.
His musical companion and friend since childhood, Phillip Wilson, is achieving a comparable feat by expanding the melodic range of the standard drumkit.
The two 37-year-old musicians, who have performed together in a variety of settings sinfe junior high school, put on an intriguing display of musical interrelating last nigh at D.C sSpace. In a duet performance, they showed an uncanny sense of where each was going with a melodic or rhythmic line.
Wilson followed Bowie's shakes and trills with billowing rolls and snappy rim shots, and sometimes broken silences. Bowie offered soaring melodies, flowing themes and flurries of presto notes. He even burlesqued" Jingle Bells" by smearing and choking the melody.
The latest in a long line of significant jazz trumpeters, Bowie says, "we've expanded the use of the instruments beyond what musicians did in the past."
His use of vocalized sounds came about, he says, when he was a student at Lincoin University.
I had read about Don Cherry using a quarter-tone trumpet to get certain sounds," he recalls. "I said i could get the same sounds with a regular trumpet. So I fixed my mouth in a certain way on the mouthpiece and used some half-open valve effects. The piano player almost fell off the stool. I knew I was onto something."
Bowie, who was first taught trumpet by his father, a high-school band director, emphasizes that the conglomerate of screeches, smears, bleeps and growls he uses are integral to the way he constructs solos.
Indeed, he has fashioned entire solos based on these effects. Earlier jazz trumpeters-Bubber Miley, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams-used vocalized sounds. But says Bowie, they employed the exotic sounds for noveltys sake.
His singular way of playing melodic fragments and rhythmic blurbs has its parallels in the contemporary classical trumpet repertory, specifically, Gerard Schwarz's rendition of Lucia Diugoszewski's "Space Is a Diamond," a piece for solo trumpet.
But bowie says he has worked out his approach independent of other influences.
"I"ve just tried to do something different," he explains. "I use these sounds as a natural part of the trumpet. My C is like my C1/2. The notes I play now will be standard in a ffew years."
The two musicians close tonight.