Jul 23, 2007

This is probably the greatest live album I’ve heard in two years. In 1980, James Chance was creating—along with Pere Ubu, Gang of Four, and Robert Quine—the most interesting music on the planet. (I remember someone involved in the late ‘70s N.Y. punk scene wrote, “James Chance was where punk should have gone.” I agree.) For approximately three years, James Chance was infallible—a key component of New York’s no-wave scene (which spawned such luminaries as DNA—Tim Wright is still way too fucking underrated—and Lydia Lunch who collaborated with Chance often). James’s girlfriend, Mudd Club founder Anya Phillips, was an integral part of Chance’s music (and live show) and makes a rare appearance on this album (Phillips died of cancer less than a year after this recording). Heavily influenced by The James Brown Show, Phillips designed Chance’s stage outfits and record sleeves (as well as set up gigs for Chance, etc.). This CD, containing tracks from a June 1980 Rotterdam, Holland show, is Chance at his most volatile, backed by such formidable musicians as Ornette Coleman bassist Al Macdowell and drumming prodigy Richie Harrison. Soul Exorcism catches Chance in his element: the stage—producing some of the most exciting, cerebral mixings of jazz with soul; both styles beaten black and blue by Chance’s irreverence for conformity. Man, I’m looking at this CD right now and it has a sticker on it quoting positive reviews: “The Contortions shook the fuck out of raw funk!”—Chicago Reader; “…essential no wave/drug-funk/skree jazz…”—Alternative Press. These reviews are bullshit ‘cause they completely miss the point of the Contortions. James Chance isn’t essential no-wave; he didn’t shake the fuck out of raw funk. James Chance literally was New York in 1980; he was—along with three or four other bands and musicians—music in 1980. (When I opened my review box yesterday containing this record, my jaw dropped, followed immediately by an “Oh shit!”) Few had Chance’s balls or his erudition—the combination of punk’s Dadaist approach to conventions backed by some of the best musicians you’re ever likely to meet. (Television—although conceptually very different from Chance—also combined hyper-intelligence with amazing musicianship. The latter quite often missing in punk rock or whatever you want to call that stuff.) James Chance was one of those rare, intelligent human beings who loved something (Black American music—jazz, blues, soul) so much, he had to leave his own mark on it, had to produce his own interpretation of it. It’s these people who obliterate orthodoxies—jazz musicians like Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman and writers like Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Fyodor Dostoevsky—who keep me alive. Like a lot of pioneers, James Chance has faded away (he’s not doing so well these days), but his contributions are eternal. Listen to this CD and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

 –ryan (ROIR)