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David Bowie cover of the week: Jazz Dynamos perform “Starman”

I was blown away by this jazz rendition of “Starman” by the band, Jazz Dynamos and especially the beautiful, hypnotic voice of lead singer Lucy Randell.

The band’s website, which you can link to HERE, quotes from a review by Mike Wells of The Review Hub (click to link to the review): “They specialise in creating jazz re-arrangements of songs by an eclectic mix of artists such as The Police, Bowie, and Dolly Parton, to name just a few, but to call them ‘covers’ would be to do them a woeful disservice. Far more than that, these are artistic re-imaginings of songs, many of which better the originals and the breadth of the extensive repertoire is staggering.”

So, first of all, sorry, then, for calling this cover of the week, but hey, that’s what this weekly feature is called. Second, Wells makes a bold claim— to have the term “better than the original” anywhere near a conversation about “Starman” is more than a little gutsy. I’m not going to go so far as to say that this version is better than Bowie’s original, and I’m not sure which song specifically inspired that claim by the reviewer of one of the band’s performances, but I can understand the reaction. My own reaction was kind of like I was eating chocolate for the first time.

But I don’t necessarily think the test for a cover is whether or not its better than the original. I have certainly heard other bands try to sound just like Bowie to varying degrees of success. That’s not what Jazz Dynamos are doing here. The band does what it sets out to do— re-create the song. They take the core from Bowie and turn it into something else. To borrow from an other Bowie song, this ain’t rock and roll. It’s actually too different from Bowie’s version to compare on an even playing field. That by itself makes it worth hearing, but it’s better than that. I don’t know that Bowie could have done a jazz version of the song better. I’m not sure that anyone could have.

I’m going to go back to Lucy Randell’s voice. I now want to listen to more songs from this band (thankfully they have a stocked YouTube account and well maintained website). I want to hear her sing lullabies. I want to hear her sing the alphabet. What a stunningly great voice.

I’ll also note that this is a documentation of a live performance the way it should be done for the purpose of making a quality video. It’s pretty apparent that the stage was wired for recording. Also, the visual elements are curated just enough to make this more considered than someone just setting up a tripod and letting it roll (and far, far from some fan in the audience with an IPhone). This is a real video.

As usual, there were many very good Bowie covers this week, but the almost staggeringly good quality of this one stands apart. Well done!

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As for some of the other good ones…

A series of Bowie covers posted from a concert held in Kyiv, Ukraine at a venue called Bel ‘Etage. It was a Bowie-themed fundraiser for the Ukraine army. I would have had a very tough time choosing among these for a cover of the week, so I’m glad the Jazz Dynamos made that unnecessary. That said, I’m heartened to see the music of Bowie being used for this purpose. The videos can be found on this YouTube page, which purports to be an archive of Ukrainian concerts, so depending on when you access the page, you might have to look for the Bowie covers, but they are worth seeking out: Kiraigigs

And just to give you a taste, here are direct links to three of the performances:

Sheteel performs “Space Oddity.”

Black Balloon performs “Andy Warhol.”

Zwyntar performs “Cat People” in Ukrainian (I think that’s Ukrainian)

There are many others, and all the ones I’ve heard are good. As for other covers, I heard two good covers of “Changes,” both of which I’ll link to because they demonstrate how different artists can take the same song in distinct directions:

Alphie Hudson-Taylor performed ”Changes.” I really like this performance but the sound quality, while not awful, contrasts with that of the Jazz Dynamo video. Alphie’s voice is beautiful but the performance would be enhanced by better recording.

Guitalele Oeuvre covers “Changes.” At first blush this one looks like a “guy in his basement with a guitar” video, and maybe that is what it is. But it’s a quality rendition and the singer is doing some interesting things with his annunciation. Looks amateurish, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

And there were many more than these this week. Which is a good sign— the music lives on and is being put to good use.

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