2016’s ★is a dense, darkly textured epic that reveals Bowie in full flight as a musician, improvisator, lyricist and performer, a tour de force that demonstrated that Bowie was as much at ease with his past as he was with his present.
A remarkable accomplishment indeed, of course, for as we know this was Bowie’s farewell. And what an album ★ is. Like Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen, Bowie left us with a complex and astonishingly powerful final statement. It’s the sound of an artist at the top of his game, confident, with nothing to prove and that fertile, quicksilver mind running at full throttle.
It was clear that Bowie wanted something different, yet again, for ★ and in New York based jazz saxophonist and bandleader Donny McCaslin, he found it. An acclaimed composer, performer and lynchpin of the experimental jazz scene, McCaslin’s love of improvisation and passion for ensemble playing created a secure, inspiring pocket around the singer, from where he emerged with some of his greatest tunes. Bringing us a melange of styles from avant-jazz to electro beats, reflective acoustic strumming to theatrical overtures (very much in Bowie’s mind as he was simultaneously preparing the stage show ‘Lazarus’), ★ remains not only the ultimate masterpiece of Bowie’s recording career, but the last masterpiece he would ever do.
Also joining us on this introductory episode, where we set the scene and get acquainted with Donny, is Leah Kardos - composer/producer, and music scholar and currently senior lecturer in Music at Kingston University near London. She’s co-founder of the university’s Visconti Studio with the one and only Tony Visconti and also runs the Kingston Uni Stylophone Orchestra (the only group of its kind in the world). She is currently writing a book about Bowie's late-period work (2013-2016) called "Blackstar Theory: David Bowie's Death Art", out next year from Bloomsbury Publishing.
Thanks are also due to the wonderful David Bowie Glamour Fanzine, without whom this podcast would not have happened.