Let’s Make a Jazz Record (David Bowie, Blackstar review)

I wish I knew more about jazz, other than that I like it of course. It’s one of those musical formats that permeates music culture but which is so open ended that I find it overwhelming to participate in discussion about it – Most of the time.

Today’s album review is one of those times when I feel comfortable talking about the subject matter. I think mostly because the artist handles the infusion of it rather well and because he has a solid track record of dealing with musical avenues that call for experimentation.

 

 

 

David Bowie – Blackstar
released January 8, 2015
********** 10/10

david-bowie-blackstar-2016-billboard-1000

If you don’t know who David Bowie is, I’m afraid to tell you you’ve missed out, and never again will you see his like. David Robert Jones, also known as David Bowie, was an English musician who played a variety of instruments, sang, wrote songs, produced records, painted, and acted in big screen releases occasionally.

My first experience with him that I can remember was the movie Labyrinth, though that was not how he got his start. With a musical career spanning back to the early 1960’s, Bowie had a top 5 hit in the UK by 1969 with Space Oddity.

If you haven’t seen the original music video you should go take a look at it right now.

Then he developed the Ziggy Stardust persona, and showed the world that he would be constantly innovating and reinventing himself for the rest of his career. Like that time he made a song with Queen called Under Pressure, and it was awesome!

Honestly, I could go on about his accomplishments and my thoughts on his legacy for another few posts, but that is not what today’s review is about, dear readers. No.

Today we are looking at Blackstar, Bowie’s curtain call and last hurrah. And before I get too sentimental and forget why we are here again, I’ll admit that this is difficult to listen to without thinking about the fact that David Bowie won’t be making any more art of the world for the world.

So with as much objectivity as I could muster I’ll say this about the album, yes it is filled with references to death, but I don’t think that it’s as obvious as all of that. This record is profound because of the talent backing the tracks and the effort put forth to create something with a unique vision.

It was his 25th studio album, and that has to mean something after all, right?

Well, I think we are seeing David Bowie at his best. The title track Blackstar is incredible, experimental, and covers some dark ground. There are jazz elements throughout the whole record, and the electronic progressions certainly aid the sombre mood of songs like Lazarus. The saxophone was Bowie’s first instrument and it makes sense to me that he use something which is associated with freedom and exploration to give us some more innovations and remind us of what he has done in the past, simultaneously.

One review I read made a very valid point that while this music will make some of us incredibly happy, others will find it frustrating and difficult to stomach. But I would argue that the inaccessibility is an indicator of just how well done this album is. Bowie’s music is strongest when there is mystery attached to it. No different than the man who made us wonder about his sexuality, spirituality, political motivations, and project choices.

For example, he played Thomas Jerome Newton (The Man Who Fell to Earth), Jareth the Goblin King (Labyrinth), Andy Warhol (Basquiat), himself (Zoolander), and Nikola Tesla (Prestige), among a weird slew of other roles.

If you think it’s all jazz, brooding, and electronic injections, think again. Girl Loves Me is a strange rap about a day that has disappeared. It is both aggressive and apathetic in each lyric.

Truthfully, if you are hoping for a clear narrative theme or explanation of what you’ve just listened to, you’re not going to find it here or anywhere else. That was not David Bowie’s intent, and he has never been one for revealing his secrets. Otherwise he wouldn’t be having fun, and we wouldn’t have gotten anything out of him while he was with us.

I’ll leave his final music videos, Blackstar and Lazarus for you, because there isn’t much that can say it better.

 

 

 

That level of experimentation in art is incredibly undervalued in my experience, but I think we can argue fairly easily that David Bowie handled jazz music with the respect and understanding it deserves – improvisation, syncopation and polyrhythms. Bowie took this love of innovation into other arenas and managed to be a pop artist that was whatever he needed to be.

That quality is rarely recognized and I hope as time goes one we will celebrate him properly and encourage others to take up his mantle.

See you tomorrow for a Theatrical Tuesday review my friends.

Tim!

 

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