Metropolitan Jazz Octet, The Bowie Project Review
Metropolitan Jazz Octet: Jazz Meets Bowie Reverent Odyssey
by Jeff Becker
When legends from disparate realms converge, the outcome is either a harmonious melding or a discordant mismatch. Metropolitan Jazz Octet’s (MJO) The Bowie Project, under the spellbinding vocals of Paul Marinaro, ventures into a daunting territory: fusing the rock genius of David Bowie with the intricate rhythms of chamber jazz. The outcome is an enthralling tribute, reverberating with the known and the novel.
Diving deep into Bowie’s extensive discography, MJO unfurls a collection that seamlessly marries audacity with contemplation. From the first notes of “Slow Burn,” listeners are immediately ushered into a captivating journey. The opening minute-and-a-half demonstrates MJO’s sound, showcasing a kaleidoscope of orchestral colors that speak to the ensemble’s depth and versatility. Arrangers Jim Gailloreto and John McLean have masterfully chiseled a rendition that doesn’t seek to replicate Bowie. Instead, it amplifies the raw intensity of the original, seamlessly weaving in distinctive jazz undertones. Gailloreto’s tenor saxophone solo not only caresses the melody but dives deep into jazz’s emotional core, and trumpeter Doug Scharf follows suit, delivering a solo that resonates with richness and passion.
Tracks such as “Space Oddity” and “Changes,” iconic in their own right and deeply ingrained in the collective musical psyche, undergo a transformation in this collection. Their recognizable melodies, while intact, are elevated by Marinaro’s refined vocal touch, which seamlessly melds with the sophisticated jazz harmonics and rhythmic foundations laid out. The rhythmic duo of drummer Bob Rummage and bassist Doug Bistrow crafts a rejuvenated pulse, precisely guiding the tracks. With Marinaro’s evocative vocal range at the forefront, these classics find a new heartbeat that resonates with nostalgia and innovation.
“Let’s Dance,” a standout in this repertoire, is impressive with its ensemble coordination and energy. The track flourishes with intricate counterpoint and impeccably executed ensemble sections, creating immersive musical layering. Mike Freeman’s vibraphone takes center stage in a particularly inspired solo, with the ensemble’s accompaniments, especially Peter Brusen’s resonant baritone saxophone, enhancing the ambiance. Pianist Bob Sutter delves deep into bluesy terrains with his solo, encapsulating raw emotion and complementing the track’s overall mood with finesse.
Opting to explore the lesser-charted territories of Bowie’s discography, the album’s inclusion of tracks like “Letter to Hermione” and “Conversation Piece” is a laudable decision. While these tracks might not have dominated charts in their original iterations, within the confines of this album, they radiate with an unexpected depth. Their introspective and ruminative essence is beautifully offset by Marinaro’s fervent vocals, creating a synergy that’s further enriched by MJO’s adept instrumentation. The meticulous arrangements, credited to the combined talents of Ben Lewis and John Kornegay for “Letter to Hermione,” and the duo of Gailloreto and McLean for “Conversation Piece,” play a pivotal role in this sonic alchemy. These tracks, in their renewed avatar, act as gateways. They invite Bowie aficionados and jazz enthusiasts to traverse and meld their musical inclinations, discovering uncharted sonic landscapes that resonate with familiarity and innovation.
The real testament to MJO’s success lies in the intricate arrangements that infuse The Bowie Project. Replacing Bowie’s iconic guitar riffs and string ensembles with nuanced horn sections might sound audacious on paper. Still, in practice, it creates an ambiance that’s both nostalgic and refreshingly innovative.
The Bowie Project, in its quest for innovation, does tread on challenging terrains. Significant departures from Bowie’s canonical sound might not sit well with purists, posing a potential point of contention. However, it’s this very boldness — this audacity — that stands as the album’s crowning jewel. MJO refrains from simply playing within the confines of the familiar; they push boundaries, experiment with the unconventional, and, more often than not, achieve musical transcendence. It’s this spirit of exploration and daring that has always drawn listeners to Bowie’s enigmatic soundscapes and the unpredictable, exhilarating world of jazz. The MJO, in their latest offering, manages to encapsulate and celebrate this shared spirit, creating a musical project that’s both familiar and refreshingly new.
The Bowie Project stands out as a beacon of innovation in the vast landscape of musical tributes. It’s a reminder that music, at its core, is a living entity, ever-evolving and open to reinterpretation. By daring to reimagine Bowie through the prism of chamber jazz, the Metropolitan Jazz Octet has paid homage to a rock legend and elevated the fabric of what a jazz ensemble can achieve. This album is a confluence of genres; it shows the boundless potential that emerges when artists dare to tread unfamiliar terrains with respect, passion, and a deep understanding of their craft. The Bowie Project doesn’t just honor the Starman; it invites listeners to embark on a fresh odyssey through the stars, one note at a time.