John Lurie National Orchestra – “The Invention of Animals”


John Lurie National Orchestra - "The Invention of Animals"Culled from a body of work John Lurie intended to be used as the launching pad for his Lounge Lizards ensemble, the music of The Invention of Animals, instead, became the core of this new release by the John Lurie National Orchestra.  Consisting of the sax/percussion/drums trio of Lurie, Billy Martin, and Calvin Weston, this music is a mix of previously unreleased and off-the-grid live and studio recordings, and highlights the trio’s intoxicating mix of melodic sleight-of-hand and rhythmic magnetism.

The album opens with “Flutter,” a song originally used on the soundtrack to Fishing With John, an odd tv show that had Lurie interacting with various friends while on fishing expeditions.  Aptly named, it features Lurie’s fluttering soprano lines skipping over Weston and Martin’s rhythmic waves.  It’s a stylistic device that Lurie has used previously to great effect, notably on a track like “A Paper Bag and the Sun” from 1988’s The Voice of Chunk, but from a wider perspective, Lurie’s woodwind trills are a bit of a signature expression, providing their biggest effect when he leaps into an improvisatory flight, with that fluttering sound like a sonic cloud of dust in his wake.

Following that is an alternate take on the title-track to the John Lurie National Orchestra 1993 recording Men With Sticks.  Lurie takes longer leaps on sax, attains a higher elevation, and this corresponds nicely to the rising intensity of Weston and Martin on drums and percussion.

“I Came To Visit Awhile” is from a 1993 live performance recorded at Tim Nye’s Thread Waxing Space in NYC.  The audio is distant and sounds cloaked in fog, but in a strange way, this enhances the ambiance… a moody dockside scene, saxophone the plaintive cry of a seagull cutting through the night, as buoys and boats provide a haunting array of percussive sounds, unseen and with a submerged affectation.

The album then enters a string of tracks mined from Fishing With John.  “The Beast” gets a nice tribal cadence going, with Lurie’s sax being carried along by the force of the rhythm.  “Little” shifts to the opposite end of that poll as Lurie offers up what sounds like the development of a melody absent the original statement.  The accompaniment of percussion gurgles and hisses with a susurrant presence.  It leads right into “The Giant,” a short interlude in which percussion develops a heavy chatter.  There’s a nice cohesion to the album development of stringing together this trio of tracks.

The album ends with the title-track “The Invention of Animals,” a sprawling 19-minute piece from a 1994 live performance in Thessaloniki, Greece.  It further proves that, when allowed to stretch out, the trio can keep the conversation going with plenty to say.  Weston and Martin offer up a furious barrage on drums and percussion.  Sometimes Lurie sounds engaged in a game of wordplay with the rhythm unit, sometimes he sounds to be sparring with them.  In both instances, the rhythmic dynamic is pretty thrilling, both as performance and as a sonic display of intellect and endurance.  The wind-down has a nifty return-to-the-nest sensation, bolstered by Lurie’s melodic glide and the rhythm section’s gradual paring down to a state of comforting repetition.  It’s a great way to have ended the album, with a huge swell of intensity and the nice soft landing.

There’s an obvious care and attention given to the selection of the tracks and their presentation, a sense that this has been curated and isn’t some random vault raid.  I’m typically hesitant about this type of release, but The Invention of Animals has got me wondering what else could be offered up in the future.  For those of you who are already fans of Lurie’s various projects, this is pretty much an auto-purchase.

Your album personnel:  John Lurie (alto & soprano saxes), Billy Martin (percussion), and Calvin Weston (drums).

Released on Amulet Records.

Available January 21st, 2014.

Pre-order here: Amazon MP3 | Amazon Vinyl | Direct from Amulet Records

I’ll add more links as they become available.  If you’re interested in the vinyl edition, it appears purchasing direct from Amulet is the better deal, as a digital version comes with the vinyl purchase.  Besides, it’s always better to purchase directly from the artist or label.

If you missed it, the other day I had a little column about Lurie & The Lounge Lizards, found HERE.

Also, kind of unrelated (but not really) is THIS LINK to Lurie’s other site, which focuses on his paintings.  The cover art of The Invention of Animals is taken from his collection.  It’s good stuff, and as I’ve mentioned on this site on several occasions, I’m a sucker for any time music is married to other art mediums, no matter how ambiguous the connection.