David Bowie returns to outer space on his 25th album, and the result is a jazz record – or more precisely, a rock album as interpreted by jazz musicians.
Working with producer Tony Visconti and New York-based saxophonist/bandleader Donny McCaslin, Bowie melds brawny riffs and distorted grooves with jazz chords to create a sound that essentially frees him from the hooky song expectations that dog someone considered one of the greatest pop musicians of all time.
When an elder statesman of rock goes jazz, the Christmas album usually isn’t far behind. But Bowie taps into a more urgent, after-hours strain of jazz, using gritty breakbeat drumming and improvised saxophone for supercharged momentum. Sometimes his singing reciprocates the wild mood in theatrical fashion. Other times his spectral voice hovers over the action like an otherworldly creature wearily observing the chaos below.
Although there’s cosmic energy in the music’s upward trajectory, it comes from a decidedly earthbound live-off-the-floor approach rather than meticulously sculpted production. The ballad Dollar Days is the softest, most classically Bowie moment, but even more Bowie is the way his grand sense of alienation comes through so recognizably in new musical terrain.
Top track: Girl Loves Me
Holy Holy (David Bowie’s all-star band) perform The Man Who Sold The World at the Opera House Tuesday (January 12).