Joseph Bowie's Defunkt | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Joseph Bowie's Defunkt


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In the late 70s, fusion was embraced by certain denizens of free jazz, most prominently James "Blood" Ulmer, Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, and Joseph Bowie's Defunkt. Trombonist Bowie--younger brother of Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester--started out as a 17-year-old prodigy in Saint Louis's Black Artists Group, playing in outfits led by restructuralists like Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill. The Saint Louis Creative Ensemble, which Bowie fronted with alto saxist Luther Thomas, was steeped in blues, R & B, and funk, and when he moved to New York and formed Defunkt the trombonist combined those streams with the stark no-wave punk sound--in fact, early on the group was often joined by Contortions singer and saxophonist James Chance. Atop that abrasive funkiness and behind various singers, Bowie's burly, hard-hitting 'bone riffed like mad, dueling ferociously with overdriven guitars. The group made some memorable records for Hannibal in the early 80s, including Thermonuclear Sweat (with future Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid), and has been a fairly regular attraction at New York's Knitting Factory since. This decade it's made five records for Enemy plus scattered others, including One World (Bluefunk) and Classic Defunkt Live in Stuttgart (Grassroots), both from 1996. The group is still a regular attraction in Europe as well, but in most of the U.S. it's gone so low-profile that many people assumed Defunkt was defunct: Bowie's best known in these parts for his work in Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. But he's bringing Defunkt back with a vengeance--indeed, in NYC its ranks recently swelled enough to warrant the appellation Defunkt Big Band. In this context, however, it'll be a four piece, with Bowie on trombone, vocals, and percussion, Ronnie Mac Jenkins on bass, Orris "Scooter" Warner on drums, and Bowie's nephew Bahnamous on keyboards. Guitarist Fareed Haque will join them on the first night. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Rituals, 537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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