In David Bowie's 25th studio album "★", joy and grief are close together: joy because it appeared on Bowie's 69th birthday, grief because the artist died of cancer only two days later. As with "The Next Day", he had been involved in a great deal of secrecy beforehand: Bowie hasn't been available for interviews for years, and there have been few comments on the recordings from his comrades-in-arms. At the same time, Bowie's strategy also proved his inner greatness, because he didn't make his impending death public and preferred to draw the public's attention to what was most important to him: his music. But what's the point of the Times claiming that Bowie's final work is his "strangest" and "completely crazy", including electropop sounds and jazz sounds? We dare a look behind the scenes.
Bowie's approach to the black star
Although David Bowie liked to fall back on trusted musicians, in this respect "★" was once again a great place to clean up. Apart from producer legend Tony Visconti, the singer and multi-instrumentalist had exchanged his entire backbone. His last core band, consisting of Gerry Leonard (g), Gail Ann Dorsey (b) and Zack Alford (dr), was no longer there. Instead, Bowie sought new sources of inspiration in jazz, electronica and drum'n'bass - which is why he hired saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his group, which includes keyboarder Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana, with guitarist Ben Monder and percussionist James Murphy providing further reinforcement.
McCaslin, who studied at the renowned Berklee College of Music, vividly remembers his first encounter with Bowie: "I met David through Maria Schneider, in whose group I had played for about ten years. She and David talked about working together. Then she called me to get various recommendations from me for what they were doing." This conversation led to two workshops for Bowie's song "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)" in June 2014, in which McCaslin's group was involved. After the first workshop Bowie wanted to see this explosive formation live as soon as possible - which is why he went to the 55 bar in Greenwich Village at the next opportunity. "The morning after, he wrote me an e-mail," McCaslin remembers. "It said that he had written a song based on what he had heard the other night, and if I was interested in recording that song." The song was "ʻTis A Pity She Was A Whore", for which Bowie had already programmed the base tracks and recorded the saxophone.
Things got going relatively quickly, and it was thanks to Maria Schneider that Bowie McCaslin's band booked the complete album. Tim Lefebvre is still amused today that Bowie informed himself in advance about his new musicians: "He watched YouTube videos of us and bought Mark Guilia's record, Beat Musicʻ, on which I also play. Otherwise it's always the other way around - you find out about the guy you're hired by."