The Invention of Animals
Discovering John Lurie was such a revelation, actually a set of revelations: he could act too? He can paint? He made films? Provided the soundtracks? And then the Lounge Lizards! My god. What about his Marvin Pontiac persona? I love the shit out of that record. And all the Lurie-related material I’ve heard. Then there was Fishing With John – seeing that got me right back on board, had me going back to all the music – again. Most recently Lurie’s been flooding Facebook with some of his brilliant paintings, and that’s – mostly – how I’ve had my fill across the last couple of years.
But here’s a new album from The John Lurie National Orchestra – actually it’s a bunch of old cuts, some live, some studio and some, presumably, off-cuts, leftovers from sessions, pieces of musical whimsy from the Fishing With John show…so it’s not new as such – but new to my ears, and new to yours if you give it a go. And you should!
Also, this “Orchestra” is actually just a trio, Lurie on sax and two drummers, both past members of his Lounge Lizards gang.
We start with Flutter, a light and airy piece of coiled and curling soprano sax that’s backed by the subdued tribal groove/s of Calvin Weston and Billy Martin. This moves into Men With Sticks and the tribal flavour is increased, Lurie swapping saxes to give a bit more depth to the piece. Round and round his sax winds, the drums the buoys that Lurie’s lines swim between.
There’s a lot of space in these tunes, the absence of groove – when it stops, when it breaks, when it falls away – just as important, as potent, as when the toms are rolling and bouncing; bounding.
Little is a breathy piece of soprano sax – almost a solo piece, but the tinkerings of percussion provide a focus that perhaps wouldn’t be there otherwise, reminding that Lurie – a constant collaborator – brings the best out in others and uses others to have the best brought out in him.
The final piece, this album’s peak – the title track – is nearly 20 minutes long. A live track that builds from tiny swirls of sax and percussion to such a huge sound for a trio; then there are the rises and falls – always the build of the tune so important, the drummers sounding like they’re hurling their instruments back and forward to one another, literally juggling the beat.
And then it’s over too soon, both this huge tune and the seven-track album. The only thing to do is hit play – again – straight away. And then when you wear this out you’re right back to all those other wonderful Lurie albums and moments – thinking back to how discovering his music was one of the greatest feelings, like a spiritual and musical epiphany; that the weird and twisted vision of a kind of jazz you had in your mind – part-cartoon, part so-so-serious, all so good – was actually something that could happen, it was happening. And Lurie, most often, was at the helm.
This album is glorious, beautiful, nostalgic, windswept and so very interesting.