The Invention of Animals

The John Lurie National Orchestra / John Lurie

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The Invention of Animals Review

by Thom Jurek

This archival compilation is a much-needed addendum to John Lurie's recorded legacy. Since being struck with a chronic case of Lyme disease in 2000, the saxophonist and composer has focused more on painting than music. The John Lurie National Orchestra was an early-'90s trio with percussionists G. Calvin Weston and Billy Martin. This group recorded fairly little in the studio, issuing only one album, 1993's Men with Sticks. The title track from that recording is featured and showcases just how fluid and communicative they could be in virtually any circumstance. It's one of the true highlights here, with Lurie's hypnotic alto exploring the subtleties of a melodic idea atop a circular rhythm orgy by Weston and Martin. Four more studio recordings are cues from the soundtrack to Lurie's brilliant television show, Fishing with John. The group's clarity and humor are readily apparent in them, despite the fact they were improvised as serial music and interconnect seamlessly. The finest moments, however, are in the two longest pieces, both recorded live and both unreleased. "I Came to Visit Here for Awhile" was recorded in New York in 1991, and showcases a series of short melodic statements from Lurie, who begins to wind them out modally in all three registers on his horn. Rumbling tom-toms, kalimbas, hand drums, sticks on the drum kit frame, and other percussion move this tune from its seemingly defined space into an entirely different one without shifting gears all that much; it's almost snake charming music. The other unreleased gem is the long, labyrinthine exercise in rhythm with expansive Eastern modal harmonics and sprawling dynamics which is "The Invention of Animals"; it clocks in at just under 20 minutes. This is where the interplay of Lurie's trio locks in, extends, and expands the compositional frame into the unknown. Lurie allows the freer side of his jazz playing to come to the fore, playing around, in response to, and through, his percussion team's ever-widening, ever-explorative grooves, even as drums and percussion instruments get augmented by the player's chants and moans. The trio layers levels of intensity on top of one another, eventually exploding in a musical storm that while "outside," never leaves the listener behind. Given the quality of these performances -- not to mention the fine sound here -- one can only hope there are more recordings by this fine band in the can.

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