Friday, January 8, 2016

Something Has Changed - On Bowie's ★

It's long been a dream of David Bowie's to make a jazz record. The incredible "Bring Me the Disco King" was a long time in coming. Originally recorded and unused for both Black Tie and Earthling, it was finally rerecorded and released on 2003's Reality. From a jazz perspective, that was it until "Sue (Or A Season in Crime)" was initially released on the Nothing Has Changed compilation in 2014. But on Jan. 8th, Bowie's 69th birthday, his dream was realized, sort of. The path to  , Bowie's 25th studio album, was filled with chance meetings with all the right people, but the two main players were his long time friend and producer, Tony Visconti, and newer friend/saxophonist Donny McCaslin.

"It wasn't actually spoken out loud, but we were going to make a David Bowie album with jazz musicians, but they weren't necessarily going to play jazz," Tony Visconti is quoted. "Having jazz guys play rock music turns it upside down." In an interview with the New York Times, Visconti continued, "[Bowie] had one key jazz player in his band for well over a decade, maybe two decades and that was Mike Garson, who is a very accomplished jazz pianist. And so, he always had a hint of jazz in sort of the earlier things. And David has a remarkable knowledge of jazz chords. I don't think he quite knows what they're called. I mean, I don't even know what they're called, but they have things like 13th in them and flatted 9ths and all that. And you don't hear that in an average rock song. But they were well hidden in the recordings of the past. Or alluded to." Think of course about Garson's incredible Ornette Coleman-crazed piano solo for "Aladdin Sane."

Donnie McCaslin continued the thought in the same New York Times interview. "It progressed pretty steadily from a song or two, to a few songs, to kind of a whole recording project. I was, of course, absolutely interested in doing it. I mean, I love him so much. Love his work and so I got back to him, told him I was into it and just one thing led to another. He sent me, I can't remember how many tunes, maybe six or seven before the first time we got together to record, and every song was really strong and the demos were really strong. And in fact, when we ended up recording, we pretty much were true to the demo forms he had sent. So it was tremendous."

★ is far from a traditional jazz recording; indeed it is jazz musicians playing a rock backbeat, but it's miles from anything that Bowie has ever done. It's acid jazz with lyrics, defined chaos, a music done to people. I'd still love a full album of traditional jazz a la "Disco King," but ★ takes the jazz ideology step upon step further. It only came out today, I've listened to it twice, and so far I wish just one thing: to hear it live. When we listen to Beethoven in a live setting what we want is to recreate the Beethoven experience 200 years on. Jazz is different. Jazz is the storytelling of music. It ebbs and flows, it evolves, it changes; it's different every time. Now I want to hear it different in a smoky club and like "Sue" in black and white. Then Bowie would actualize the dream. Unfortunately, at least according to Tony Visconti, "I don't think he's ever going to play live again. If he does it will be a total surprise."

Rounding out the lineup: Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar, mixing, production, string arrangements, Fender guitar on "Lazarus"; Donny McCaslin: flute, saxophone, woodwinds; Ben Monder: guitar; Jason Linder: piano, organ, keyboards; Tim Lefebvre: bass.

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