Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 21/4
Written by: RD on 20/01/2016 11:25:05
A shock. That’s what people felt when David Bowie’s death was announced in the morning of January 11th. Bowie had just released his 25th album, Blackstar, on the previous Friday, and seemed more alive than ever. It quickly appeared that he had known for more than a year about his fatal cancer and Blackstar was his way of saying goodbye, making this album a very unique item in modern music.
Back in 2013, Bowie came back with a good classic rock album after a ten-year hiatus, but Blackstar is another story. Like most great artists, Bowie had always surrounded himself with the best musicians (this list speaks for itself: Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Pat Metheny, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth...). So, after having heard the Donny McCalsin band at a jazz club in New York, he immediately thought about a collaboration. By the way, if you are into challenging music, both Donnay McCalsin and Mehliana (a project with Blackstar’s drummer Mark Guiliana and Brad Mehldau) are artists you should check out. However, because being surrounded by top musicians of the contemporary jazz scene is not enough, Bowie decided to work again with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and his longtime producer and friend Tony Visconti to gather an impressive creative team.
Hybridisation, which has always made Bowie’s music so fascinating, is at the core of this record from the very first eponymous track. It navigates between jazz experimentation, electronics and familiar tunes. All along the record, Bowie also makes reference to the past, particularly to his Berlin period with the cold sound of “Lazarus”, or the harmonica of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” which sounds very much like “A New Career in a New Town” and the orientalist tones of the title track. Yet this album also looks towards the future with the decisive presence of jazz musicians. On saxophone, Donny McCalsin’s interventions are marked with sensuality, fury, and desperation. His versatility and range are essential to the record, in the beginning of “'tis a Pity She Was a Whore”, for example, his repetitive tones are reminiscent of the music of Steve Reich. Drummer Mark Guiliana is as essential, as his subtlety on “Blackstar” makes the track somewhat eerie with a strange rhythmic pattern. On “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” his complex and intricate drumming is what drives the sonic chaos. His inspiration from electronic music (Aphex Twin) is also very present and fits the hybrid quality of Bowie’s compositions to perfection. It appears also that David Bowie wanted this album to be accessible. His last compositions are very melodic and written with this very particular craft for memorable tunes, as heard on “Dollar Days”. Carried by Bowie’s voice, the whole record is set for the emotional journey to acceptance, through the spectral tone of “Blackstar” the intensity of “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”, the melancholy of “Dollar Days” and ends with the bittersweet tones of “I Can’t Give Everything Away”.
Very few artists who have emerged in the late 1960's have been able to remain relevant until today. With Blackstar, Bowie has again proved he could renew himself one last time and at 69, he released an album that is more original than most of contemporary artists’ productions. In the light of his disappearance, Blackstar becomes a daring statement, a strong plea for innovation and creation, even beyond death.
Download: "Blackstar", "Lazarus", “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)”
For The Fans Of: Tom Waits, King Crimson
Release date 08.01.2016
ISO - Sony
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