Year on, Bowie re­mem­bered as en­gag­ing un­til end

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in New York

When David Bowie walked unas­sum­ingly into a cozyNew York jazz club to hear Donny McCaslin play, the sax­o­phon­ist ad­mits he wasn’t well­versed in the rock icon’s vast discog­ra­phy.

Bowie, who had a vi­sion for the rhyth­mic un­der­pin­ning of what would become his fi­nal al­bum, met McCaslin in per­son a week later and soon emailed him to pro­pose a col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Black­star, Bowie’s 25th stu­dio al­bum, showed the leg­endary rocker ex­per­i­ment­ing un­til the end, craft­ing a style of hard jazz as his voice du­els with the sax­o­phone ofMcCaslin, an artist who has pushed the bound­aries of elec­tron­ica in jazz.

Black­star was re­leased to wide praise on Jan 8, 2016, Bowie’s 69th birth­day. Two days later, he stunned the world when he died af­ter an undis­closed bat­tle with can­cer.

“It’s been a year like none other for me,” McCaslin says at a cof­fee­house in Green­wich Vil­lage. “I was so happy to see the crit­i­cal ac­claim, par­tic­u­larly for David. It was all so won­der­ful. And then he passed away and I was just dev­as­tated emo­tion­ally.”

In Oc­to­ber, McCaslin and his band re­leased their own al­bum, Be­yond Now, which was in­spired by Black­star. But he still strug­gles to lis­ten to Black­star, say­ingheis“still­pro­cess­ing the feel­ings around it”.

Af­fa­ble but with clear emo­tion when dis­cussing Bowie, McCaslin had par­tied in high school to the rocker’s dis­copop Let’s Dance, but oth­er­wise knewlit­tle of his work.

Af­ter he signed on for Black­star, the 50-year-old Cal­i­for­nia na­tive lis­tened to Bowie classics but soon stopped, re­al­iz­ing Bowie had cho­sen him for his own sound.

“I had an email ex­change with him about it and I said some­thing like, ‘Hey, I’m check­ing out some of your his­tory.’ And he said, ‘Oh, what are you lis­ten­ing to?’”

McCaslin listed some of Bowie’s most fa­mous tracks such as Life on Mars, Space Odd­ity and Changes.

“He said some­thing to the ef­fect of, ‘You know, that’s older stuff. I’m into some dif­fer­ent stuff now.’”

Black­star, which­went­toNo1 on charts around the Western world, topped nu­mer­ous crit­ics’ lists for the best al­bums of 2016. But it did not earn a Grammy nom­i­na­tion for Al­bum of the Year, whose con­tenders in­clude bal­ladeer Adele’s block­buster 25 and pop celebrity Justin Bieber’s Pur­pose.

“I like Adele — noth­ing against her — but look at the con­tent of Black­star, the artis­tic con­tent. There is no com­par­i­son,” says McCaslin, a three-time Grammy nom­i­nee.

“It was pretty dis­ap­point­ing be­cause it is such a work of art, Black­star. But any­way, it’s out ofmy hands.”

McCaslin po­litely de­clines to say if he knewabout Bowie’s can­cer, but says Bowie was “al­ways su­per present” and warm.

Bowie would gen­er­ally com­pose songs at his New York pent­house, he says, mak­ing demos with drum ma­chines, syn­the­sized bass, gui­tar and vo­cals and oc­ca­sion­ally play­ing sax­o­phone him­self.

The rock star would walk to TheMagic Shop stu­dio, where McCaslin would in­ter­act mu­si­cally with him, im­pro­vis­ing sax and adding har­mony.

Bowie would make sug­ges­tions at night as he fine-tuned the lyrics. Af­ter his death, lis­ten­ers have pored over the lyrics on Black­star for mean­ings.

On Lazarus and the ti­tle track, Bowie re­flects on death and ap­pears to ref­er­ence al­ter ego char­ac­ters from his past. On Dol­lar Days — whose mu­sic, McCaslin says, emerged spon­ta­neously in the stu­dio — Bowie wist­fully bids farewell to the ev­er­green trees of his na­tive Eng­land, while he con­cludes on a note ofmys­tery and hope on I Can’t Give Ev­ery­thing Away.

McCaslin says he does not fo­cus on the lyrics and in­stead re­sponds to the emo­tion of Bowie’s voice as an in­stru­ment.

McCaslin down­plays sug­ges­tions that Bowie de­signed Black­star as a de­fin­i­tive fi­nal state­ment.

“I have read so much about that,” he says. “But my ex­pe­ri­ence was that he was mov­ing for­ward, in that he was talk­ing about record­ing more mu­sic.”

While not in­tend­ing to become a Bowie cover act, McCaslin says he will for­ever be in­flu­enced by him.

“At 68, he could have been do­ing any­thing, but in­stead he had us,” he says.

“He was not afraid to do that. You see some­one at his level and this point of his ca­reer and that’s re­ally in­spir­ing.”

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