Monday, August 31, 2015

Dylan Howe: “Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin” (2015) CD Review

In the mid-1970s, David Bowie moved to West Berlin. He released three studio albums in the next few years that are considered a trilogy of sorts, the Berlin Trilogy. Those albums are Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Earlier this year, jazz drummer Dylan Howe released Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin, featuring interesting interpretations of David Bowie’s compositions from that time. These are renditions of songs from Low And “Heroes,” including the entire side two of Low and two tracks that were recorded for Low but only released later in expanded editions. Nothing from Lodger is included, which is a shame, as that is one of my personal favorite Bowie albums (but then again Lodger doesn’t have instrumentals). But what is included here is excellent. And you don’t necessarily need to be a David Bowie fan to appreciate this album, especially as the tunes Howe covers are not your typical Bowie tunes. I think the album will be more interesting if you are a Bowie fan, but as long as you appreciate jazz, you’ll be able to enjoy this disc regardless of your feelings about David Bowie. Joining Dylan Howe on this CD are Ross Stanley on piano and synthesizer, Mark Hodgson on bass, Brandon Allen on saxophone, Julian Siegel on saxophone, Nick Pini on bass, Adrian Utley on guitar, and Steve Howe on koto.

The album opens with “Subterraneans,” the odd, atmospheric mostly instrumental track that concludes Low. Here it has a similar feel, which can be dark and haunting at times, but then also has a human feel because of the saxophones. This version is a few minutes longer than Bowie’s original. Interestingly, it’s followed by “Weeping Wall,” the instrumental tune that actually precedes it on Low. This is a strange, sometimes eerie number. Dylan Howe begins his rendition on drums, playing for half a minute or so before the other musicians come in. I really like this track, particularly because of Ross Stanley’s work on keys, which actually gives it something of an uplifting vibe at times, and brings it more firmly into the jazz realm. As with “Subterraneans,” this version of “Weeping Wall” is a few minutes longer than David Bowie’s original.

“All Saints” was recorded for Low, but wasn’t included on the original record. It was later included as a bonus track on the CD. It has a heavy, intense, electronic, industrial vibe.  The version on this CD begins with some really nice work on bass by Mark Hodgson, giving the piece a more introspective and exploratory feel at the start. But when it kicks in, it gains that heavier atmosphere and an electronic pulse. Then it surprisingly goes in a more traditional jazz direction, with even a bit of a swing to it, and there is some excellent stuff on saxophone. It goes back and forth between these two musical worlds, finding lots of interesting places to play, and includes a wonderful lead spot on bass. At eleven minutes, this version is quite a bit longer than the original. It is followed by “Some Are,” the other track that was recorded for, but not included on, the original pressing of Low. This one does have some lyrics, though an instrumental version was included on Bowie’s compilation All Saints. The version on this CD, of course, is instrumental. I love Ross Stanley’s work on piano.

“Neuköln” is a moody instrumental track from Bowie’s “Heroes” that was written by David Bowie and Brian Eno. Dylan Howe gives us two interpretations of this composition, “Neuköln – Night” and “Neuköln – Day.” Interestingly, while the saxophone plays such a key part in Bowie’s original, there is no saxophone on either of Howe’s tracks. It’s even more interesting when you consider that every other track on this CD, with one exception, has saxophone. Instead, it is Ross Stanley on piano that adds wonderful touches. These two tracks are the only ones to feature Nick Pini on bass.

Dylan Howe’s rendition of “Art Decade” has a kind of loose feel from the start. This is an instrumental track from the second side of Low. It is followed by the tune that precedes it on the Bowie album, “Warszawa.” Bowie’s version does have vocals, which come in more than halfway through the song. Howe and company really delve into the world of this composition, stretching it out to just over eleven minutes, taking it in some different directions. This is the only track on the CD to feature Adrian Utley on guitar. Ross Stanley delivers some wonderful stuff on keys in the second half of the song.

Dylan Howe concludes the CD with “Moss Garden,” a track from “Heroes” that was written by David Bowie and Brian Eno. On the original version, David Bowie plays koto, a Japanese string instrument. And on the version here it is Steve Howe on koto. Steve Howe is, of course, known for his work as the guitarist in Yes and Asia, and he is also Dylan Howe’s father. Other than Steve Howe, the only musicians on this track are Dylan Howe on drums and synths, and Ross Stanley on piano. There is a more calm, almost pretty feel to this one.

CD Track List
  1. Subterraneans
  2. Weeping Wall
  3. All Saints
  4. Some Are
  5. Neuköln – Night
  6. Art Decade
  7. Warszawa
  8. Neuköln – Day
  9. Moss Garden 
Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin was released on January 20, 2015.

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