If the suit fits (Beuys will be Beuys).

Originally posted 29 January 2007

The Lounge Lizards
Big Heart – Live in Tokyo
Island : 1986

John Lurie, alto sax; Roy Nathanson, tenor sax; Curtis Fowlkes, trombone; Marc Ribot, guitar; Evan Lurie, piano; Erik Sanko, bass; Dougie Bowne, drums; E. J. Rodriguez, percussion.

The Lounge Lizards are a little hard to classify. Initially saddled with the self-proclaimed “fake jazz” label — intended as Downtown misdirection, maybe laced with a streak of self-preservationism (or straight-up bet-hedging) — by the time this incarnation of the band was in full swing, there was nothing fake about it. Still, there were difficulties. The fact that the band’s output is listed in the Trouser Press record guide 4th edition and not the Penguin Jazz 5th speaks to the taxonomic trouble.

Of course, the shifting line-ups and varied output — never the same album twice; John Lurie’s soundtrack work and acting and visual art and reality programming; brother Evan’s kids’ show work; Ribot’s ever-shifting moods — doesn’t make it easy to pigeonhole the outfit. Nathanson and Fowlkes went on to form the nucleus of the Jazz Passengers. They’d perhaps learned the value of a good tag.

Call it whatever you want, though, just don’t call us late for dinner: this cooks. “Big Heart” starts almost fully inflated and continues pumping from there. The song rises to a full-throttle hysterical swing after about two mintues. It crests, and then — a scream, and Ribot starts applying the pressure again, with a wonderfully off-kilter guitar solo that somehow recapitulates all that has come before, while adding something noisy and new. The big beat supplied by the rhythm section of Bowne and Sanko is another stupendous part of the track, and their rock tendencies really come to the funk fore. The group did some kind of proto-video for this cut using a different recording. Of course, you can view it here; it’s plucked from the Fishing with John DVD.

Nathanson’s “Fat House” is a straightforward riff highlighted by another jerkily superb Ribot solo. As perhaps befits a song called “Fat House,” it doesn’t really travel that far. After Ribot’s turn the horns slowly regroup, creeping up on the main theme as though they might spook it if they come upon it too fast. Though this album is not currently available on CD, you can find all tracks at iTunes.

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There is a very good interview with J. Lurie in the most recent issue of Perfect Sound Forever. It contains this line: “Basically, I have an enormous amount of weird, migrating neurological problems. That can be mild or severe depending on the week, day, or hour.” This was news to us. It has apparently led to Lurie focusing almost entirely on his painting, culminating in a show last year at New York’s PS1. Prints, and discs, are for sale at Lurie’s Interweb home: Strange and Beautiful.

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