The Lounge Lizards – “Live in Warsaw” and “Voice of Chunk”


Today’s video is a live performance by The Lounge Lizards, at the Jazz Jamboree Festival, Warsaw, Poland back on October 25th, 1998.

John Lurie‘s outfit strung together a series of compelling albums during the 80s (with a slight return in the subsequent decade).  What I remember back then (and, yeah, me relying on my own memory is a poor basis for writing anything that purports to be factual) is that it seemed like lots of people were going out of their way to disassociate The Lounge Lizards’ music from Jazz proper.  It’s not really Jazz, was the refrain I’d hear.

And maybe it’s not.  Or wasn’t.  It had elements of Jazz, and it had elements of other musics, too.  But the thing of it is, it sounds more like the Jazz of today than many people recognize.  The jazz improvisation, the post-rock melodic washes, the modern classical ambient drones, the poly-rhythmic cross currents of Latin and Afro-jazz, the chamber and folk music interludes… these are all elements embraced by the modern jazz community, musicians, critics, and fans alike.  Lurie’s vision had a substance and weight that carried it outside his own sphere of creativity and found a home in the line of sight of other musicians.

More proof of this can be found in this video’s personnel.

Your video personnel:  John Lurie (alto & soprano saxes), Michael Blake (alto & soprano saxes), Steve Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet), Evan Lurie (piano), Doug Wieselman (guitar, clarinet), Jane Scarpantoni (cello), Tony Scherr (bass), Mauro Refosco (percussion), and Calvin Weston (drums).

For instance…

Saxophonist Michael Blake has had a strong run of releases in the last couple years on the Songlines label, creating music that has a definitive edge to it, but also incorporates folk and rock elements to give this music a haunting, moodier tone.  He’s also been the saxophonist on Ben Allison’s series of modern jazz-rock recordings.  Allison has been at the forefront of destroying the barricades between what is Jazz and what Isn’t.

Doug Wieselman was part of the downtown NYC scene, significantly with the Kamikaze Ground Crew… an avant-garde ensemble that, yes, performs jazz, but with a variety of influences as to make it unclassifiable.  I adore how KGC’s music is tagged as “weird jazz” on the CDBaby site.  Steve Bernstein‘s Millennial Territory Orchestra and Sex Mob ensembles have made a home performing jazz covers of other genres, sometimes framing the originals in traditional Jazz sounds and sometimes straying far off into the original tunes respective genres.

Drummer Calvin Weston did some intriguing work with James “Blood” Ulmer, and is also part of the John Lurie National Orchestra.  Jane Scarpantoni was the go-to cellist for a number of alternative rock acts, though it was her collaboration with Lou Reed where she really shined.  Tony Scherr’s work with another genre-bender, guitarist Bill Frisell, fits right in with the qualities of modern jazz that I’m discussing.  And these are just a few of the names that have been a part of the Lounge Lizards.

If we go further back, musicians like Curtis Fowlkes (Bill Frisell), Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Kenny Wollesen (John Zorn’s mystic projects), and Marc Ribot are all gonna come up.

These musicians that Lurie was collaborating with, all of them have made their mark on the modern jazz scene, and all of them have made some contribution to the form jazz takes in the present day.  And some of it, well, sounds a lot like the music Lurie and crew(s) were creating back in the day.

My introduction to The Lounge Lizards (or any of John Lurie’s music) was when someone played the 1988 album Voice of Chunk for me.

There’s a lot of good reasons to accumulate close interesting friends… one of those reasons is that, often, they will play music for you that you’ve never heard before and wonder how you went through your life not hearing it up until that point.  That saxophone opening to “Bob the Bob” drew me right in, and the subsequent drifting harmonies and furious improvisatory sprints drew me in even closer.  I remember a snowy day in Denver, walking into St. Marks Coffee House, and hearing the music of Voice of Chunk drifting through the same air that carried a heat blasting the January chill from my face, and then just melting into a booth with a cup of joe, a good book, that music, and a sense of contentment that life was settling in just as it should.

I don’t remember who it was that introduced me to the music of The Lounge Lizards, but thanks.  That was a nice thing you did.

The music is evocative as hell, but it made a cerebral connection with me that has never shook free.  For all the talk back then of what this music wasn’t, I always felt (and still do) that this is very honest music.  And what I mean by that is that this is music that (to my ears) sounds to be focused on a creative vision, expressed in a way that ignored current conventions of what music did or should sound like… a entire focus on the sound that was right there in front of them at the time, in that moment, unconcerned about how it might sound later or what should come later, theoretically or in reality.

Lounge Lizards - "Voice of Chunk"

Legendary jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller once referred to a type of jazz called “interview music”… of inventiveness for the sake of drawing attention to the inventiveness, attempting to do something different, which typically will attract notice for its differentiation and not necessarily for the music itself, which invariably leads to interviews, features, articles, and more attention.  When I hear Voice of Chunk, I hear something at the opposite end of that spectrum.  I hear Isolation Music.

Isolation Music is just the musician by him or herself, simply pursuing a creative idea, a raw unformed vision, and just following it through, regardless of where it went and what form it took.  It is something that nobody is ever going to hear.  It just so happens, in this instance, that it wasn’t one musician, but many, and that Voice of Chunk has been released in recorded formats and performed all over the world.  But it sounds like the inventive music that never leaves the home practice studio, the riveting short story that gets buried on the writer’s desk, the brilliant painting that gets rolled up and tossed into a closet with all of the other canvases.  Creativity that was a good idea at the time, but that’s all it was… an idea, a creative impulse, a personal vision that compelled the artist to complete it, without any thought given to sharing it.

Now, I am applying a whole bunch of thoughts and assumptions to music I wasn’t there to see created by musicians I’ve never spoken to about an album on which I’ve never performed background research.  None of what I say about Isolation Music might apply to how Voice of Chunk came to be.  I’m talking about the effect creativity has on the recipient.  These are some of the thoughts I have on how this music affected me, and since it’s my site, I get to spend time obsessing over it.  And thank god each of us does that.  If music didn’t affect us on a personal level, it would lose much of its value.  I sure as well wouldn’t be writing this now.  This site wouldn’t exist.  And you wouldn’t even care or know its absence.  It matters.

Lurie has got a new album coming out in 2014.  It’s from his John Lurie National Orchestra, which features the trio of Lurie, Weston, and Martin.  Titled The Invention of Animals, it’s comprised of previously unreleased and off-the-grid live and studio recordings, culled from a body of work the trio intended to be used as the launching pad for more Lounge Lizards work, but which became something quite special existing on its own.

It’s being released by Martin’s Amulet Records, and I’ll be posting a review of it tomorrow (Monday, Jan. 13th).

In the meantime, if you’re interested in picking up Voice of Chunk (or any of the other Lounge Lizards or John Lurie recordings), here’s some retail links…

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon | Direct from Lurie’s label Strange & Beautiful Music