Fri, 8 January 2016
Four years ago I posted a review of The Wee Trio’s Ashes to Ashes – A David Bowie Intraspective, and had these comments:
Rock Star/actor David Bowie turned 65 earlier this week. One of the great musical chameleons of our time – perhaps only Miles Davis tried more musical styles and guises during his career – he’s unfortunately something of a recluse these days, producing little new work. He’s left a body of recorded projects that dominate my iPod – I go nowhere without Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, Low and ‘Heroes’.
How things can change! Bowie turns 69 years old today, and rather than resuming to the musical hiatus that ended in 2014, he has released one of his most interesting and talked-about albums since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
Blackstar is also Bowie’s attempt to bring jazz into his music in a bigger way. A saxophone player from way back, Bowie has had jazz flourishes in many tunes, and has hired the likes of Lester Bowie to play trumpet and David Sanborn to play sax for him. However, his 2014 collaboration with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, “Sue (or a Season in Crime)” marked an outright jazz approach to the textures and structures of his longer musical pieces.
A key soloist for Ms. Schneider is SNC favorite Donny McCaslin, and working with Bowie on that track (click here for my interview with Donny and his comments on the session) clearly made an impression, since Blackstar features the Donny McCaslin Group as Bowie’s backup band. McCaslin on saxophones, Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass and Mark Guiliana on drums make for formidable foils on the new material. In fact, much of the sound is similar to the past two McCaslin Group albums, Casting for Gravity and Fast Future, which successfully stretched the boundaries of jazz and electronica, putting texture, beats and effects ahead of chord changes as the center of the listener's experience. Click here for a thorough New York Times article about the collaboration.
That said, Blackstar is not a jazz album.
Not that that’s a bad thing. In these days a handful of our best, and most adventurous artists are looking to stretch their music beyond genre or type. I think of Robert Glasper, or Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah in jazz; Kendrick Lamar in hip-hop, and any number of electronica artists, an area that drummer Guiliana approached successfully in his Mehliana and Beat Music releases.
So Blackstar can be enjoyed for Bowie’s grafting of 21st century jazz sound onto his rock sensibilities. He wisely lets Jason Linder take a big part in the overall sound and Lefebvre’s throbbing bass clearly has been honed to crossover perfection during his tenure with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. McCaslin lets loose with a number of great solos (check out “’Tis a Pity She’s a Whore”, with Bowie audibly registering his wonder), and guest Ben Monder has a winner of a guitar solo on “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” I look forward to repeated listening revealing more musical excitement.
Podcast 515 discusses and shares some of the music from Blackstar, as well as features a number of jazz artists performing Bowie’s music. Happy 69th, David, and keep it up. Musical selections in the podcast include:
David Bowie (with the Maria Schneider Orchestra) – “Sue (Or in the Season of Crime)” from Nothing Has Changed.
David Bowie – “Tis a Pity She was a Whore” from Blackstar
Bad Plus – “Life on Mars?” from Prog
Robert Glasper Experiment (featuring Bilal) – “Letter to Hermione” from Black Radio
The Wee Trio - “Ashes to Ashes” from Ashes to Ashes: A David Bowie Intraspective
Dylan Howe – “Warzsawa” from Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin