‘Subterranean: New designs on Bowie’s Berlin’ – Dylan Howe

Subterranean

THE ‘BERLIN YEARS’ of David Bowie’s wide-ranging pop/rock career are amongst the most memorable – a source of fascination and inspiration to musicians, including composers and instrumentalists from other genres.

In the mid-to-late ’70s, Bowie had turned his attentions to a more minimalistic/ambient output, influenced by a move to West Berlin and stemming from his interest in postmodernist contemporary art. The recorded legacy of that period centres around two (some say three) seminal albums – Low and Heroes, both from 1977 – produced by Tony Visconti and including celebrated rock experimentalists Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Two decades on, leading American contemporary composer – and friend of Bowie – Philip Glass reimagined both projects as stunning orchestral symphonies which highlighted the far-reaching creative possibilities of these iconic compositions.

Now, as a fan of Bowie’s original recordings from his teenage years, and seeking a more original and personal direction for his own work, British rock and jazz drummer Dylan Howe has translated the ‘call’ of that ‘Berlin era’ into a remarkable new studio release, Subterraneans, mainly interpreting the instrumental aspects of this pair of albums. Created over a period of several years, and realised thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the accomplished personnel comprises Julian Siegel and Brandon Allen (tenor sax), Ross Stanley (piano, synths) and Mark Hodgson (double bass) along with appearances from bassist Nick Pini, guitarist Adrian Utley and special guest on koto, Dylan’s father (needing no introduction to Yes fans!), Steve Howe.

The landscape of the project is broadly filmic, encompassing prog/synth rock and post-bop jazz; and whilst initially slow burning, it progresses and expands into an imaginatively colourful fusion of both. So, opening track Subterraneans maintains the shifting synth profile of the Low original, but ticks perhaps more optimistically to Howe’s snare/cymbal rhythm and the subtle explorations of piano and sax. Weeping Wall encourages a greater jazz quintet presence and momentum, Howe prominent at the kit against Vangelis-like electronics; and the extended All Saints (a later Bowie creation), opening with the expressive bass of Mark Hodgson, leaps into a wide piano-driven jazz swing, Brandon Allen taking the wonderfully hard, dry Coltrane-esque tenor solos (sinister synth whinings hovering behind).

Some Are smoulders like some late ’60s TV thriller theme, leading to the similar drama of Neuköln – Night (from Heroes) – this time, an effective, fast-paced reworking in which Howe’s drums and Stanley’s piano skitter to the ebullition of Nick Pini’s bass. Howe takes Art Decade to another place, its ambient Eno-like qualities evident, but shimmering as a sensuously-felt, droplet-piano ballad. Warszawa – in Bowie’s hands, sombre and menacing – becomes sprightly and dance-like to Dylan Howe’s touch. Whilst such a transformation might sound crass or insensitive, it is in fact surprisingly successful; tempered with unsettling moments characterised by Adrian Utley’s echoic guitar, the jazz groove which ultimately dominates these eleven minutes is joyful in its synth-infused abandon.

Neuköln – Day picks up on the earlier Night theme; here, a darker variation – and my futile, self-indulgent desire at this point anticipates a crashing Sound Chaser-like injection from master guitarist Steve Howe! But no fear – Mr Howe (Senior) takes up the koto embellishments of serene Moss Garden to close the set.

Released on 7 July 2014, Dylan Howe will be touring Subterranean in the UK from 5 September (see dates below). Whether or not Bowie runs through your veins, it’s worth investigating at Bandcamp (download/CD/vinyl) – and endorsed enthusiastically by davidbowie.com and the great man himself.

 

Dylan Howe drums
Mark Hodgson double bass
Ross Stanley piano, synths
Brandon Allen tenor saxophone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
with
Nick Pini double bass
Adrian Utley guitar
Steve Howe koto

dylanhowe.com

2014 tour dates:
Dylan Howe; Dave Whitford; Ross Stanley; Steve Lodder; Andy Sheppard

5 September: Colchester
10 September: Lincoln
11 September: Nottingham
12 September: Derby
13 September: Hessle
26 September: Brighton
29 September: London
1 October: Halifax
2 October: Milton Keynes
3 October: Liverpool
18 October: Coventry

Motorik Recordings – MR1004 (2014)

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