joseph bowie | oliver lake | julius hemphill | baikida carroll

Oliver Lake | Baikida Carroll Photo:from Baikida Carroll’s web page.

Joseph Bowie | Oliver Lake Sackville 2010
Oliver Lake / flute, alto and Bb saxophones (and compositions), Joseph Bowie / trombone. Recorded: April 10, 11, 1976 in concert in Toronto.

Julius Hemphill | Baikida Carroll

PERFORMANCE OF MARCH 20, 1977 at the Blue Dolphin, San Francisco

Julius Hemphill / alto saxophone (maker of film shown during second part of program), Baikida Carroll / trumpet, flugelhorn.

The Hemphill-Carroll concert and the Lake-Bowie LP offer two examples of the creative use of one of the most open situations for improvisers. The duo setting, it would seem, provides an optimum space for individual invention, while similarly containing within itself the potential for interaction of the most complex sort. In both of these cases, as in the Murray-Bluiett concert reviewed above, the music was/is built around a series of essentially rhythmic/(dynamic) thrusts, and the form of it is again an “emergent” form, thematic ideas surfacing – either spontaneously or due to pre-structuring – in the course of the pieces rather than simply or only at the beginning of them. With the Lake LP, the themes are more easily identifiable – and perhaps more “thematic” (or more compressed) in themselves – than they were in the Hemphill-Carroll presentation, and they may even reappear, though giving way to a different improvisational approach or structural emphasis. Also, Lake’s and Bowie’s roles can be more easily sorted out than was the case with Hemphill-Carroll where the two seemed to converge more evenly.


For Lake, this is his most representative work on record, and for those who have not had the opportunity to hear him play first hand, it may prove something of a revelation. His is a hard, percussive, and angularly intense attack, always seeking to confront the force of expansion (speed, multiplicity of accent, and propelled tension) with the scintillatingly close and contracted contours of his compositions. It somehow holds together, though often it seems that it will all simply burst and come apart. Here, too, Bowie prods Lake on from underneath, spitting out hoarse, rapid-fire volleys of sound (remindful in a certain way – though several registers removed – of Don Ayler’s trumpet approach) – big, brash, and bold, though often his contributions are more textural or timbral or serve as rhythmic punctuation than they are entirely substantial. But he is an important improviser, his approach to the instrument is completely distinctive, and he suggests a great deal about the uses to which it can be put.


The Hemphill-Carroll collaboration was some of the closest inter-improvisation you could hope to hear. It was clearly Hemphill’s concert – he was in town to participate in a remarkable series of solo performances at Mapenzi in Berkeley (review to appear further on) – and his presence was strong, though he never really dominated. He has a deeply ingrained dramatic (compositional) sense and exhibits a considerable interest in texture, but more as layers of rhythmic motion rather than as stacked up levels of rhythm in itself – that is, the creation of whole (changing) environments rather than simple contextual elaboration. He may stagger sound about, or else let it flow – sometimes torrentially – from his horn, leading into and pushing off from wavery held tones, often in another dynamic range and register (especially the lower one), almost Ellingtonian in character. So that different from Oliver Lake, whose lines seem always to want to explode into something else, scarcely able to contain their own intensity, Hemphill’s seem almost to want to implode – that is, the shifts of inflection suggesting a more profound, yet more subtle, sense in the statement itself rather than one beyond it; a way of hearing between the lines.

Joseph Bowie Photo: Dragan Tasic

Next to Hemphill, Carroll was extremely impressive – his work can certainly stand alongside anyone’s – stringing together long, rhythmic beads of sound, or else self-defined clusters of notes, with occasional lyrical asides or staccato blasts that combined to create an evasive and molten multi-directional surface. He utilized frequent changes of timbre, moving easily from trumpet to flugelhorn and from mute to mute, making sudden and unexpected timbral leaps.

from left to right: Oliver Lake – alto saxaphone, Joseph Bowie – trombone, Baikida Carroll – trumpet, Charles “BOBO” Shaw – drums and Floyd LeFlore – trumpet.The group was called, The Black Artist Group From St. Louis. Paris 1973. Photo from Baikida Carroll’s web page.

The second half of this concert featured an hour-length film made by Hemphill in St. Louis that seemed built around a symbolic series of events, moving in a very slow space, and having to do with the process of personal/racial transition – from some where to another where (where?). Carroll and Hemphill played non-stop during the film’s showing, moving through several pieces of music, and through any number of rhythmic/spatial dimensions. Each – the film and the music – worked as a rhythmic counterpoint to the other and as a counterpoint of idea (however translated emotionally) to intuition – which presented a certain problem to the listener/viewer, that being whether to give way entirely to one tendency or the other, or how to take in the experience in a “balanced” way, so as to fully immerse oneself in both aspects of it at once. For myself, it was not a fully resolved problem, and it is one that would seem to be inherent to some degree in this type of mixed-media presentation. Yet it made for a powerful statement, the kind of confrontation of art with “life” that all too rarely takes place.

In any case, this was music – as is the slice of the Lake-Bowie meeting available on record – that is busy expanding structural/improvisational horizons. It was/is, without question, some of the most important improvised music now able to be heard.

Henry Kuntz, 1977


Joseph Bowie biography:

Joseph Bowie (born September 17, 1953 in St Louis, Missouri) is an American bandleader, trombonist, and founder of the seminal jazz fusion band, Defunkt. The group has been blending jazz with funk and punk music for more than three consecutive decades.
Bowie is the younger brother of world renowned avant-garde jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie, and saxophonist Byron Bowie. He cut his teeth as a trombonist with the Black Artists Group a musical collective from St. Louis.
In 1973, Bowie relocated to New York as part of the Human Arts Ensemble (founded by Charles “Bobo” Shaw), and became involved with various rhythm and blues projects alongside no wave saxophonist James Chance. Other outfits Bowie has collaborated with include (but not limited to):David Murray, Ethnik Heritage Ensemble, Yusef Lateef, Adam Rudolph, Hans Dulfer.

In 2003 Bowie moved to The Netherlands, where he lives in the small town of Gorinchem. Besides his own band Kosen-Rufu, he is working with several Dutch groups, such as the Hans Dulfer/Joseph Bowie Quintet, Monsieur Dubois, and the experimental computer music group, the POW Ensemble.

After recovering from a bout with drug addiction during the 1980s, Bowie discovered Buddhism and has been a practicing Buddhist ever since. He has since founded Kosen-Rufu, another musical outfit aside from Defunkt.


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