Dylan Howe. Photo: Bob Meyrick
Seven years in the making, and backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, drummer Dylan Howe brought his personal take on David Bowie’s Berlin period to the Bonington Theatre. Subterranean, the album that is the result of those years of work and crowd-funded dough, is a re-working of the second half of Bowie’s ground-breaking Low and two tracks from Heroes.
Howe staged the gig against a backdrop of archive footage from seventies Berlin, a city of concrete squares, the iconic TV Tower (a spike skewering a humungous golf ball), and Cold War tension. A pair of soldiers in military jodhpurs stride past the Reichstag, rifles slung over their backs; Checkpoint Charlie’s lights at night; a car journey past anonymous apartment buildings.
Following the listing of the album, Howe opens with the eponymous title track, Subterranean: a beautiful, subtle scene-setter for the evening. A four note double-bass hook served as the bedrock for some delicate, smooth sax playing from Andy Sheppard. Weeping Wall gave quick riffs on the piano and sax, chased by jittering cymbals and an improbably prog-rock sounding synth solo. Some Are saw slow, deliberate sax notes build up a contemplative atmosphere before Art Decade’s echoing computer trills and breathier sax tune led into a bouncier, pacier and more traditional jazz take on Warszawa that’s deliberately reminiscent of John Coltrane.
Dylan Howe's "Subterraneans" Photo: Bob Meyrick
Neukoln (Day) felt remarkably apposite for the background visuals of Cold War Berlin, the delicate drums and moody synth evoking subterfuge and clandestine meetings. Moss Garden closed the set with meditative waterfall-like cymbal playing from Howe feeding into Japanese koto sounds from Steve Lodder’s synthesiser.
Alan Sheppard on tenor sax and clarinet was as much the centre of attention as Howe’s superlative drum-playing, and Dave Whitford on double bass underpinned the evening with rock-solid assurance. Ivo Neame on piano gave remarkably confident support considering he was a last minute addition to the gig and hadn’t seen the music before that day. Steve Lodder, on synthesiser, gave the music just the right amount of seventies science fiction vibe, making tracks like Nueköln (Night) evoke a peculiarly retro vision of the future: sheer fabric tunics, neon lights and brutalist architecture.
Howe’s intelligent, respectful interpretation of some of David Bowie’s most fascinating and multi-layered music managed to hold true to the spirit of the original and create new jazz takes that felt wholly of a piece with it. It was a superb night of atmospheric, smart jazz. But the definitive word on Dylan Howe’s take on Bowie’s Berlin years comes, appropriately, from the Thin White Duke himself: “That’s a top notch album you’ve got there. Really.”
The next Jazz Steps gig at The Bonington Theatre, Arnold features The Weave, on Thursday 25 September. Before then you can catch Jeanie Barton and the BoHoP Trio at the West Bridgford Library on Thursday 18 September.