This release complies two John Lurie film scores from the mid-'80s; the first for the Jim Jarmusch indie classic Down By Law and the second for Bette Gordon's lesser-known Variety. Listeners familiar with Lurie's flagship project, the Lounge Lizards, or other groups from the downtown New York scene of the day should find the seedy, avant-noir vibe of Down By Law immediately familiar. This should come as no surprise as a number of musicians from that project (guitarists Marc Ribot and Arto Lindsay, percussionist E.J. Rodriguez, etc.) are also represented here. That said, what makes this recording unique and ultimately very refreshing is the noticeable lack of over the top irony one typically associates with downtown releases. Of the many enjoyable songs on this session, the polyphonic alto sax exercise "Are You Warm Enough?" is particularly interesting. On this number, Lurie employs an early example of the rhythmic and tonal patterns that would later become his signature sound. It is worth noting that this fluttering technique -- inspired, it seems, more by Southeast Asian horn patterns than the blues -- is actually quite unique and sets Lurie aside, jazz or otherwise, as an original reed improviser with a logic all his own. Also included are snippets of dialogue featuring the then-unknown Roberto Benigni. The music from Variety, on the other hand, is much more subdued and sparse. When divorced from the narrative and visuals of the film, the Variety score doesn't hold up as well as the score for Down By Law as a "naked" listen. Perhaps for this reason, it seems more typical of the background music one associates with film scores. Originally a Made to Measure release, this disc was reissued by Lurie's imprint, Strange and Beautiful, in 1999. The DVD of Down By Law, which features a soundtrack-only feature, was reissued by the Criterion Collection in October of 2002.
Down by Law/Variety Review
by Brandon Burke