Though lacking the clout of JVC and the community of the Vision Festival, the Festival of New Trumpet Music, a/k/a FONT Music, has evolved into a summer institution. Its third incarnation, intelligently designed by Dave Douglas, Roy Campbell, and Jon Nelson, distributed nearly four dozen bands across four successive venues—starting with the Jazz Standard, which gamely accommodated a six-day paean to Lester Bowie, the Art Ensemble trickster whose trumpet geekdom took a backseat to his musical scope.
Bowie’s patron sainthood, along with Douglas’s omnipresence, kept the week from unraveling into Trumpetpalooza. All of the 14 bands that played the Standard had horns at the helm—even Burnt Sugar, in a roundabout way—but the instrument was rarely the main focus. When it was, as in Bill Dixon’s slurry of a set, conventional heroics were supplanted by a self-effacing brand of virtuosity: echo-chamber whimpers instead of alpha-male displays. Douglas, in his Brass Ecstasy band, set an example by sharing the spotlight with trombonists Ray Anderson and Clark Gayton. Both earned their keep on Douglas’s head-wagger “Just Another Murder”—as did tubaist Marcus Rojas, who puffed a bass vamp ripped from Björk’s “Human Behaviour.”
Bobby Bradford and Baikida Carroll, trumpeters from Bowie’s generation, paid their tributes without stylistic deference. Each played commandingly but left the heavy lifting to his sidemen: Bradford got an immeasurable boost from bassists Mark Dresser and Ken Filiano, while Carroll nominally led a blazing group that in other circumstances would be Tim Berne’s something-or-other. It’s no accident that Carroll, who was on the Julius Hemphill records that clinched Berne’s style, breezed through the latter’s typically knotty new “BG . . . uh . . . OH,” a highlight of the set.
FONT Music’s stated aim of upending inside-outside dichotomies jibed nicely with the likes of Campbell, Corey Wilkes and Cuong Vu and was dramatically fulfilled by Randy Sandke’s tunefully avant-garde “Mystic Trumpeter” suite, which gave the lie to his conservative rep. Closing night at the Standard, Sandke’s Metatonal Band delivered what felt like a culmination. It wasn’t, of course; there were still several weeks of hornucopia ahead.