James White & the Blacks / James White

Off White

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For Off White, James Chance, a veteran of New York's avant-garde no wave scene, recast his seminal band the Contortions as a parody of a soul band, albeit one incorporating the rhythms of disco and funk rather than R&B. Thus, Chance became James White (as a nod to James Brown), the Contortions became the Blacks, and his music, previously a twisted, experimental brand of avant-jazz, became a disco/funk/free jazz hybrid. As bizarre as the fusion of Albert Ayler and Giorgio Moroder might sound, Off White works primarily because Chance commits to both sides of the music. The disco rhythms, especially on "Almost Black, Pt. 1" and "Contort Yourself" are as pounding as anything Casablanca ever released (even the production is slick and polished), while his sax solos on both those tracks are squawks and bleats that would scare off all but the most committed avant-garde hipsters. He even attempts calypso on "(Tropical) Heat Wave," mixing a languid island rhythm with intricate blasts of noise. By carefully constructing his music with such polar opposites, Chance manages to highlight how both of them have more similarities, especially in rhythm, than would appear at first listen. Off White may be an acquired taste, but listeners who dig into it will have their patience rewarded with some of the most challenging, intriguing music to emerge from the post-punk era.

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