Metropolitan Jazz Octet, The Bowie Project Review
Resonant Rebirth: Rediscovering Bowie Through Jazz in The Bowie Project
by Constance Tucker
In the aftermath of the Covid years, a creative phoenix rose from the ashes of isolation: The Bowie Project. Metropolitan Jazz Octet (MJO), in a serendipitous alliance with Chicago’s own vocal virtuoso Paul Marinaro, embarked on an odyssey to pay homage to the enigmatic brilliance of David Bowie. This 2023 Origin Records release is a kaleidoscopic journey through time, capturing the essence of Bowie’s songwriting legacy and reimagining it through the prism of jazz.
The Bowie Project delves deep, traversing Bowie’s illustrious career. From the celestial echoes of “Space Oddity” to the transformative “Changes,” and the rhythmic allure of “Let’s Dance,” Marinaro and the MJO touch upon iconic tunes and also venture into the profound depths of early, less traversed gems such as “Conversation Piece” and “Letter to Hermione.” This anthology is a mosaic of universal themes – love, loss, disillusionment, societal division, and a quest for hope amidst the nebulous landscape of change.
In the shimmering journey of sound that unfurls within The Bowie Project, Marinaro’s voice emerges like a comet in a starlit sky. He navigates through Bowie’s eclectic oeuvre with the finesse of a modern-day crooner, brushing each note with a glint of jazz and a touch of Broadway theatrics. Picture this: Bowie’s profound lyricism is reborn, resplendent in arrangements as luxurious as velvet, conceived by a collective of maestros including Jim Gailloreto, John Kornegay, Mike Allemana, Fred Simon, Ben Lewis, Thomas Matta, and John McLean.
Imagine stepping into a gallery where familiar masterpieces are reimagined. Such is The Bowie Project, where Bowie’s genius is viewed through a jazz meets traditional pop prism, refracting new perspectives, nuances, and eliciting a profound appreciation for his songwriting genius. The production here is pristine, polished to a mirror sheen that amplifies the Metropolitan Jazz Octet into an entity as expansive as an orchestra.
Marinaro’s vocals, echoing a unique blend of jazz and Broadway sensibilities, resonate harmoniously with Bowie’s own theatrical leanings. It’s a harmonious dance between homage and originality. Take, for instance, the iconic “Changes” and the cosmic “Space Oddity.” Marinaro navigates these familiar waters gracefully, embellishing each melody with rhythmic intricacies and stylistic flourishes that make them intimately his own while still echoing the ghost of Bowie’s essence.
In a surprising twist, “Let’s Dance” is metamorphosed from its ’80s exuberance into a tender, swinging serenade. Marinaro, with his impeccable diction and expressive nuances, deftly transforms these melodies, rendering them simultaneously nostalgic and refreshingly novel.
Gailloreto’s arrangement in the lesser-known “Stay” resembles an artistic revelation, with Marinaro’s vocals painting vibrant strokes of jazzy rhythms. Yet, it’s the rendition of “Quicksand” that genuinely steals the breath away. Lewis and Kornegay craft an arrangement that blooms and swells, allowing Marinaro’s voice to explore the emotional topography of the melody. It’s a journey through quicksand that pulls you in but offers a buoyant resonance.
What sets this project apart is its unwavering commitment to preserving the emotional hues of Bowie’s lyrics. Even as chord progressions are intricately woven, and melodies are deconstructed to infuse a jazz sensibility, the narrative of the lyrics remains the steadfast compass guiding each arrangement.
In “Space Oddity,” the poignant phrase, “This is Major Tom to ground control, I’m stepping through the door,” is a symphony of orchestral colors and emotions. Marinaro’s showmanship shines, extracting the raw emotion from each word, while the ensemble provides a kaleidoscopic backdrop.
The Bowie Project is a success because of Marinaro’s dedication to artistry, Gailloreto’s leadership, and the abilities of the Metropolitan Jazz Octet’s performances of the outstanding arrangments. It’s a sojourn into a familiar yet uncharted realm, an exploration that beckons listeners to venture within and discover Bowie anew. Through this album, Bowie’s legacy is not just remembered, but transformed and celebrated in a jazz-infused reverie.