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Album 102: “The Bowie Project” (2023) by the Metropolitan Jazz Octet, featuring Paul Mar

I have heard Bowie’s music interpreted in different ways including as classical music. Bowie’s long-time pianist Mike Garson translated Bowie songs into piano jazz a while back. Bowie himself occasionally veered in the direction of jazz, especially in his final album, Blackstar, featuring jazz musician Donny McCaslin, who himself adapted some Bowie songs for his own subsequent records. This disc, The Bowie Project, goes all in. It’s an album entirely of Bowie songs performed as jazz numbers. Imagine a dark and smoky jazz club. I’m not really a big jazz aficionado, so I’m limited in what I can say about the music as such, but I can say that to my ears these rank among the most unusual adaptations of Bowie songs.

Does it work? Is the album any good? Hmmm… my reaction is that the result teeters on the edge of parody. It doesn’t quite fall over the edge, but I’m listening to the voice of singer Paul Marinaro but imagining, not Bowie, but rather Bill Murray’s lounge singer from old Saturday Night Live. I’m sure he has a great voice for jazz, but adapted or not, he’s singing Bowie, and, yeah, it doesn’t sound quite right.

I think the instrumentality works better. In fact, the whole project might have worked better as an entirely instrumental affair.

I very much do like the song selection. Nine of the eleven songs on the album are from three Bowie albums. Three (“Slow Burn, “5:15 The Angels Have Gone” and “I Would Be Your Slave”) are from Bowie’s excellent 2002 album, Heathen. The songs are less frequently covered than some of Bowie’s better known songs, but they are also slower and more somber than Bowie’s earlier rockers, and thus lend themselves relatively well to the album. Three of the other songs are from Space Oddity (“Space Oddity,” “Letter to Hermione,” and “Conversation Piece”). Three more are from Hunky Dory, (“Changes,” “Quicksand,” and “Life on Mars”). All of these are also slower songs, as Bowie songs go, but I don’t know, they maybe are too familiar in their original form.

The remaining songs are “Stay” and “Let’s Dance.”

Anyway, I’m glad that this type of experiment happens. It is far from awful. Just…Bowie wasn’t a jazz musician. I’ll leave it at that.

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