Wynton Marsalis and Lester Bowie are two of the most exciting trumpeters in jazz today. Both members of the New York Hot Trumpet Repertory Company, Marsalis and Bowie attempt to absorb all of jazz history into their playing-Marsalis by conquering each genre's discipline; Bowie by sabotaging each genre's rules. Marsalis is a more admirable, consistent player, but Bowie is more often surprising the revealing. Thus, Marsalis does a solid job as the young prodigy in the otherwise seasoned Herbie Hancock Quartet on "Quartet," while Bowie varies wildly from dazzling invention to noodling indulgence on his double album, "All the Magic."
On his debut solo album, Marsalis was backed by Miles Davis' old rhythm section: pianist Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. The trumpeter joins this quartet for Hancock's new double album and takes the best solos. The album begins with two uninteresting Thelonious Monk interpretations and then tackles compositions by Hancock, Carter and Williams plus a standard. Hancock plays quite well-considering his recent work-but has little to say. Marsalis shows a hard, precise tone that rearranges themes in short, economical statements. The real hero of the album, though, is Carter, whose restless, resonant bass gives the music a human dimension, and whose composition, "Parade," is the album's highlight.
Bowie's double disc set is really two very different albums forced together. The first record is an outgrowth of his delightful 1982 solo album, "The Great Pretender." He shows genuine though irreverent affection for the history of black music by taking key genres and stretching them to their breaking points. He begins with a 12-minute tribute to Louis Armstrong. By slowing the New Orleans blues to a crawl, Bowie is able to explore every nuance of Armstrong's trumpet phrasing until it becomes something else entirely. Soul singer Fontella Bass, Bowie's wife, adds lyrics and vocals to make it clear this sacrilegious revision is a sincere tribute.
Bowie is similarly playful with the avant garde; he gives Albert Ayler's "Ghosts" a jaunty Latin arrangement. Bowie's skidding, piercing trumpet lines lead his quintet through joyful, iconoclastic treatments of the rhythm & blues classic, "Let the Good Times Roll," the lounge standard, "Everything Must Change" and three more originals. The second record is a solo album with Bowie on "trumpet and other sounds," mostly percussion. The solo record has the playfulness but not the substance of the first. "Miles Davis Meets Donald Duck," for example, accurately mimics both sides of this imaginary encounter, but so what? THE ALBUMS: Herbie Hancock: "Quartet" (Columbia C2 38275); Lester Bowie: "All the Magic" (ECM 23789-1-1J). THE SHOWS: VSOP II (featuring Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (featuring Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors and Don Moye).