Bobby Lewis – In The Forefront
In The Forefront
(Southport – 1975/2000)
by John Barrett
He was trained by a classical trumpeter; you can certainly tell from this album. A trumpet ensemble with rhythm, Bobby Lewis’ Forefront was extremely ambitious: all material written specially for the group, all styles considered. We’re talking major players here: Rufus Reid, Cy Touff (the bass trumpeter from Woody Herman) and Art Hoyle, who played on Sun Ra’s first album. Each man plays at least three kinds of trumpet (Bobby plays six) and the sound will floor you.
Starting like the theme of a newscast, “Incantation” yawns in the middle – that’s Bobby, with a nice muffled tone. The horns trade a bit, and Rufus walks, followed by blistering counterpoint. They sigh on “Wilderness”; smooth as black velvet, they sound like one horn. Very dignified, like a concert piece;when they holler (on “Aberrations”) it’s strident, marked by modernist chords.
So far we’ve heard mood pieces, all on the mannered side; when the funk rolls on “Frump Trump” we are eager. Bobby, on piccolo trumpet, sounds like a clarinet; he grabs a flugelhorn for “That Which Has Vanished”, cooing a sweet lament. Then comes the centerpiece: “The Trumpet Section Suite”, a history of jazz told in 25 minutes. The four percolate like Satch and King Oliver, then an Ellingtonian brass wail. Swing now follows, in “Four Brothers” mode; each man gets to blow the blues, the others riffing with mutes. The last movement tries a fusion approach, and transparent chords – not as successful as the rest, but it adds to the whole. Taken together, Disc One is a triumph, with great charts and virtuosic playing. And it only gets better from here.
The bonus tracks are my favorite part of the album – nearly an hour in length, they take up the bulk of Disc Two. “Fugue” has a weary start: the group blares a response to Bobby’s whispers. The pressure grows, and the payoff is a minute of hot licks – I could hear more of this. “Trumpetry” is a blustery work for ten trumpets: the quartet is joined by Cy Touff, then doubled through dubbing. From a proud fanfare, the blues emerge: Hoyle is the star, and he takes charge. The second movement is called “Balladry”: this is Touff, gliding like a trombone. Everyone helps at the end; here’s a fugue that really swings!
For something more abstract, try “The Innermost Desire”, an improvised suite. This is quiet: Bobby played it alone , then added one overdub. Themes evolve in a minute, and rely on many things – chords, call and response, rusty squeaks. This is the sound of thought, and the best of the classical pieces. The set concludes with a few more quartets; the best is “Seasons”, with Bonnie Herman (of Singers Unlimited) coasting on wordless trills. Undescribable – like the best of this album.
This is not meant for casual listening; these tunes are involved, carefully built on many levels. While there are many styles, all have this in common: masterful composition, and a love for the sound of brass. Listen closely, and you’ll feel it too.