“ For his 27th studio album, has Bowie gone jazz? On first listens to Blackstar, released on 8 January, Bowie’s 69th birthday, it certainly sounds like rock’s oldest futurist has dusted down his saxophone. They are tooting, parping, wailing and gusting all over the place, occupying rhythmic, atmospheric and lead parts, with guitars and keyboards intermingling in a weave of supporting roles.
The saxophone was Bowie’s first instrument, which he started learning in his pre-teens inspired by a bohemian, jazz-loving elder half-brother, Terry Burns. Bowie once said that, aged 14, he couldn’t decide if he wanted “to be a rock’n’roll singer or John Coltrane”. Even in his rise to rock fame, Bowie remained a creature of the jazz age, at least in the sense of the boundary-crashing freedom that characterises his work.
A new single, Lazarus, released today, may kick off in the vague realm of contemporary music, with spectral guitar and stuttering rhythms calling to mind the young British trio the xx, but it is not long before those saxophones are sighing and the beat is fragmenting. Just about holding it together are the familiar tones of Bowie’s teeth-gritted, tight-chested whisper of a vocal, proclaiming it is This way or no way / You know I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird / Now ain’t that just like me? Sure sounds like jazz to me. . .
What Bowie has created with this hardcore jazz crew, though, is not something any jazz fan would recognise and is all the better for it. At its best, free jazz is amongst the most technically advanced and audacious music ever heard but it can be uncompromisingly difficult to listen to for the non-aficionado. The improvisational elements that make it so gladiatorial and hypnotic live can make it over complex and inaccessible on record. Bowie’s intriguing experiment has been to take this wild, abstract form and try to turn it into songs. Blackstar is an album on which words and melody gradually rise from a sonic swamp to sink their hooks in. It is probably as close as free jazz has ever got to pop. . . ” / Read the full review at Telegraph online
◼ IN AN UNNERVING SIMULATION OF BOWIE’S VOICE, the star of Bowie’s new musical Lazarus, Michael C. Hall, sings its title track for the CBS Late Show (below) the day it is released as a single. The maestro himself is watching the show at home in his armchair. How meta-modern is that?!
➢ Bowie fulfills his jazz dream – Listen to an NPR Music interview with the two main characters who accompany Bowie on this new adventure in music – his longtime friend and producer Tony Visconti and his new-found friend/saxophonist and band leader Donny McCaslin.
➢ Nov 23, more background revelations in Rolling Stone – “We were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar,” says producer Tony Visconti. “The goal was to avoid rock & roll”