Subterranean – New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin
British drummer Dylan Howe leads his own small ensemble, plays drums in his father’s trio (dad is guitarist Steve Howe) and has worked with Wilko Johnson and Ian Dury among others here covers Bowie’s Berlin-era instrumentals; reinterprets them, shifts their context. The electronic elements are still crucial hallmarks but the saxophones of Julian Siegal and Brandon Allen turn All Saints into Tenor Madness as overseen by Eno, the late-night waft of jazz that permeates Wayne Shorter’s score from Glengarry Glen Ross is as crucial to opening cut, Subterraneans as Low.
Portishead’s Adrian Utley guests on the 11-minute version of Warszawa, its Bowie-version motif easily recognisable with jazz shapes darting all about, playing peekaboo with the song’s melody. Steve Howe pops in for album closer, Moss Garden. The rest of the time it’s Dylan and his band – the piano of Ross Stanley a crucial element in particular, drizzled out over the tunes in a way that occasionally shows glimpses of the great Mike Garson, many of these pieces feeling, texturally, like they wouldn’t have been out of place as part of the fabric of Bowie’s great, underrated/overlooked Outside.
Weeping Wall begins with a short hint that an open drum solo will emerge, but that’s cut off by the insistence of the groove. Stanley’s piano and synths lead the way and Howe, as seems to be his job here with these casually stunning arrangements, offers surprises in the punctuation of the piece. It’s all about new phrasing and Howe’s job as leader for this set is to change the flow of the conversation. He does that well on Wall and Some Are, creating space for the other instruments to dance.
Art Decade is another perfect example of how these new jazz clothes have been draped over the existing ambient/electronic form. You can always say the original shape of the tune still but the new outfit accentuates the latest twirl.
A whole new way of hearing some of the most intriguing music Bowie made. Howe’s new directions keep the gentle-creeping feel of Bowie’s tunes but give them (just a bit more of) a pulse; allow them to dance. It’s a stunning recreation, somehow faithful and yet you just wouldn’t think it’d work on paper. Well, on the record these songs truly come alive.