…Breathes a new life into even the most familiar tunes.

Origin Records: Origin 282864 3

Paul Marinaro: vocals; John Kornegay: alto saxophone, alto flute; Jim Gailloreto: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Peter Brusen: bariton saxophone, bass clarinet, bassoon; Doug Scharf: trumpet, flugelhorn; Russ Phillips: trombone; Bob Sutter: piano; Ben Lewis: piano; Mike Freeman: vibraphone, marimba; Doug Bristow: acoustic bass; Bob Rummage: drums, percussion.

Recorded 2020 thru 2022 by John McCortney at AirWave Recording, Park Ridge, Illinois and remote locations

Having recently pondered the ways in which Bowie’s music related to jazz, it was a pleasure to receive this CD to review. Immediately, you are struck by the mixture of songs that the octet has chosen. There are, of course, well known tunes such as ‘Changes’ (track 3), ‘Let’s dance’ (track 6), ‘Life on Mars’ (track 11), but also a host of tracks from albums across Bowie’s career. This suggests to me that this is clearly a project developed by people with a deep knowledge and love of Bowie’s music.

The second striking point for me was that manner in which the compositions all start from the words and the melodies that these employ. Often Bowie’s lyrics were either cut-up collages or were placed over the dominating rhythms of the tunes. The only exception to this is on ‘Stay’, which relies on the Earl Slick’s guitar riff to open the tune and the tune that the carries the lyrics doesn’t quite hold its own (on Station to Station, Bowie’s voice is buoyed along by the rock-funk band rather than delivering a song as such).

Working from the lyrics gives the music a setting, not unlike the ways in which words work in musical theatre. On their version of the song ‘Conversation piece’ (track 10) the lyrics could be from Sondheim and the accompaniment from Bacharach. Given Bowie’s early debt to Lionel Bart and the ‘Lazarus’ project of his final years, there has always been an element in his song writing that places the words into the context of a musical.

On this set, that element is brought to the forefront. Rather than working from the familiar riff or obvious chord sequences (especially on a song like ‘Let’s dance’) the arrangers have exposed structures and tensions in the music that come almost entirely from the ways in which the words fit together and convey a tune. This can mean that small adaptations, such as dropping the ‘ch-ch-ch’ from the chorus of ‘Changes’, creates a different experience and a subtly different experience of the song.

Each of the songs tell a story and the compositions provide a clever accompaniment to Marinaro’s vocals. Here, Marinaro takes each song as a story, much like in musical theatre, and works away at the charm and pathos of each of these. He delivers the songs in his own style and, rather than seeking to emulate Bowie’s phrasing, breathes a new life into even the most familiar tunes.

Reviewed by Chris Baber