How do you ensure that the music you create will still be performed live – long after you have gone? For the great classical composers of the past, this was not a problem. Notate the work, get it published and sit back and enjoy the seemingly endless stream of performances. The jazz and folk communities do things differently – they keep the music going as a largely oral/aural tradition, freely reworking and developing the material as required.
But for pop musicians things are more problematic. Much pop music is indeed of an ephemeral nature so perhaps longevity is not an issue, but there are nevertheless a significant number of works that deserve to be kept alive through live performance. Take, for instance, the works of David Bowie. During his lifetime he continually breathed new life into much of his glorious back catalogue through extensive touring and performing. But now he is no longer with us, what next? Yes, he has given us the definitive recorded performances and there are doubtless hundreds of tribute bands churning out cover versions of varying quality … but this important canon of music deserves something more. It deserves arrangers and performers who are prepared to distill the essence of this music to give us fresh interpretations and reworkings – not only keeping the music alive, but also providing new insights and perspectives.
Cue David Power and his fine arrangement of ‘Art Decade’ from Bowie’s album ‘Low’. David’s reworking of this piece, as performed by the Delta Saxophone Quartet, is a tour de force. It cannot have been easy to arrange this particular Bowie/Eno collaboration; there is no notated version to refer to, the instrumentation often comprises heavily processed instruments and various synthesiser lines which can be hard to pin down and untangle.
An arrangement of this sonically rich piece for an acoustic ensemble is always going to be a challenge, but when you have sopranino/soprano/alto/tenor/baritone saxes and clarinets/bass clarinets at your disposal, solutions are perhaps possible. In this case, more than possible. All the melodic layers are indeed there, but the triumph is with how these instruments are able to capture the richly evocative backdrop of synthesised sounds. This arrangement brings out the power and majesty of the original and, more importantly, provides opportunity for live performance in the future. ‘Art Decade’ is no longer destined to become merely a museum piece – it remains a living and breathing entity.
I’m sure others will go on to arrange the works of David Bowie for various performing groups, but whether they will capture the essential qualities remains to be seen. To succeed, they will need the necessary musical skills and very good ears and, crucially, an understanding of what Bowie’s music is really all about. And, as David Power has shown us, that understanding comes with an appreciation of a profound spirituality which underpins so much of Bowie’s best work.
[Visit our ‘Links’ page for access to David Power’s website]