John Lurie is a musician, a composer, an accomplished painter, and an actor. For good measure, toss in raconteur and all-around Internet wise guy. He’s made some of my favorite records (The Lounge Lizards’ Live in Tokyo: Big Heart), appeared in (or scored) some of my favorite movies (Down By Law), and has gone fishing with the likes of Willem Dafoe and Tom Waits.
With today’s release of The Invention Of Animals, we have a collection of previously unreleased live and out-of-print studio recordings from his Lounge Lizards side project The John Lurie National Orchestra. It’s a pile of music that does a good job of illustrating Lurie’s particular brand of off-kilter genius.
Four of the compositions here come from the soundtrack to Lurie’s television series Fishing With John. You thought I was kidding about fishing with Tom Waits?! Hardly! On top of that we have “Men With Sticks,” the title track to the only National Orchestra release. There are also two previously unreleased live tracks, “I Came To Visit Here For A While,” and the marathon title track (coming in at over 19 minutes).
It’s something of a misnomer to refer to the John Lurie National Orchestra as a Lounge Lizards side project, though there’s definitely a connection. Lurie got together with percussionists G. Calvin Weston (Ornette Coleman/James Blood Ulmer/Derek Baily) and Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin and Wood/DJ Logic/Ikue Mori) to work on material for the Lounge Lizards — but the musical alchemy was so great that the group became its own thing. And “its own thing” perfectly describes their music. Give the title track a listen and you will get their thing. It’s highly percussive, melodic, dark, funny, and relentless. Lurie’s saxophone slowly transitions from slow and pensive circular patterns to squalling bursts of noise, all while the percussion boils beneath him.
You know, it’s strike me that this music has a lot in common with Lurie’s paintings: introverted, funny, disturbing, open-hearted…all at the same time. Maybe not such an impossible feat for an off-kilter genius.
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