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Dylan Howe: Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie's Berlin

Bruce Lindsay By

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Dylan Howe is one of the UK's most versatile drummers—a long-standing member of The Blockheads, part of Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey's band on the chart-topping Going Back Home (Chess Records, 2014) and (alongside keyboard player Ross Stanley) part of his father, Steve Howe's, guitar trio. He's also responsible, with Will Butterworth, for a critically-acclaimed duo recording of Igor Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring (Stravinsky—The Rite Of Spring, Motorik Records 2010).

On Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie's Berlin Howe delves into David Bowie's early back catalog. It's not the "everybody on the dance floor" Bowie of "Jean Genie" or the quirky folkster of "Space Oddity." Howe concentrates instead on the instrumentals of Bowie's Berlin period, a crucial part of his 1977 RCA albums Low and Heroes. The results are quite superb.

What do the Howe re-imaginings have to offer that Bowie's originals don't? A greater warmth, a more positive feel, less sense of menace. Although electronics play a large part in Howe's versions, acoustic instruments are crucial to the feel of the music on Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie's Berlin. The tunes are also often appreciably longer than Bowie's recorded versions, giving Howe and his fellow musicians the chance to explore the music's structures and textures and allowing greater opportunities for the musicians to solo.

The results are recognisable to Bowie fans, but striking in their freshness and openness. "All Saints" opens with Mark Hodgson's deep, resonant, double bass, accompanied solely by Howe's drums. After a minute or so the main theme emerges on synth then the band shifts between this theme and a post-bop groove led first by the saxophones then by Stanley's attacking piano then the saxophones once more—it's a heady mix of electronica and classic jazz that Bowie never attempted. "Some Are" has a spooky edge. "Warszawa," featuring Adrian Utley on guitar, is lovely: its flowing grace countered by an urgent, driving saxophone solo from Brandon Allen.

"Neuköln—Night" and "Neuköln—Day" are atmospheric trio pieces on which Howe (on drums and synth) and Stanley (on piano) are joined by bassist Nick Pini. Howe Senior replaces Pini for the third trio outing, "Moss Garden," playing the koto. This is a softer-toned version of the tune, Howe's performance on koto emphasising its ethereal beauty.

In recent years songs by rock and folk composers such as Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen have become a standard part of the jazz repertoire. As yet, Bowie hasn't had the same impact on jazz. Howe's imaginatively interpreted "new designs" show that Bowie's body of work has plenty to offer the more adventurous jazz musician. So, as Keith Jarrett's 2-CD improvisation on "The Laughing Gnome" has failed to see the light of day, Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie's Berlin will stand as the album that brings jazz and Bowie together—and does so in splendid style.

Track Listing: Subterranean; Weeping Wall; All Saints; Some Are; Neukoln Night; Art Decade; Warszawa; Neukoln Day; Moss Garden.

Personnel: Dylan Howe: drums; Mark Hodgson: double bass; Ross Stanley: piano; Julian Segal: saxophone; Brandon Allen: saxophone; Nick Pini: double bass; Steve Howe: Koto.

Title: Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie's Berlin | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Motorik Recordings

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