Formed by James Siegfried (aka James Chance) in the late 70s, the Contortions were a collision of punk and harmolodic jazz that, along with Bill Laswell’s Material and James Blood Ulmer, constituted New York’s no wave scene. Chance’s awareness of cutting-edge jazz - and a defiantly original saxophone style, an unholy combination of Captain Beefheart and Maceo Parker - injected his music with a brittle energy that was unmatched. The Contortions, comprising Chance, Pat Place (guitar), Jody Harris (guitar), Adele Bertei (keyboards), George Scott III (bass) and Don Christensen (drums), debuted in 1978 on No New York, a seminal sampler chronicling the city’s no wave movement. The band’s experimental fusion of punk, free jazz and funk was exemplified on the startling Buy, issued on the then-fashionable Ze label. Three live sets, released following the Contortions’ demise, chronicled their memorable in-concert power. A later version of the band, James White And The Blacks, fostered Defunkt as a separate entity, kick-starting the black rock movement that begat Living Color. Heroin problems prevented James Chance reaching a large audience, but his spiky, beautiful music remains as a testament that jazz chops do not necessarily make for tedious rock music.
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