Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Lounge Lizards

The Lounge Lizards are a jazz group formed in 1978 by saxophone player John Lurie.

Initially a tongue in cheek "fake jazz" combo, drawing on punk rock and no wave as much as jazz, The Lounge Lizards have since become respected for their creative and distinctive sound.

The first line-up was John Lurie, his brother Evan (piano and organ), Arto Lindsay (guitar), Steve Piccolo (bass guitar), and Anton Fier (drums). This ensemble recorded the group's self-titled debut, which contained two Thelonious Monk songs and was produced by Teo Macero, famed for his work with Miles Davis. The record received positive reviews, with one scribe noting "while there's definitely great respect shown here for the jazz tradition, the members are obviously coming at it from different backgrounds." Especially notable is Lindsay's noisy guitar: He had earlier honed his distinctive, untutored and unconventional technique with the band DNA.

After this line-up dissolved, the Lurie brothers formed a new group, which has been described as "less compelling" than the earlier ensemble. Their sole record, 1983's Live from the Drunken Boat, remains the only Lounge Lizards album never to have been issued on compact disc.

In the years following their inception, they lost the moniker of "fake" almost completely and comprised some of the best musicians from the avant-garde New York jazz scene: Roy Nathanson (saxophone), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Marc Ribot (guitar), and Erik Sanko (of Skeleton Key) (bass guitar), Dougie Bowne and EJ Rodriguez on drums and percussion. (Fowlkes and Nathanson would pursue duo performances, which metamorphosed into The Jazz Passengers).

This edition of the Lounge Lizards recorded three albums in two years, and demonstrated John Lurie's increasingly sophisticated and multi-layered compositions that often stray rather far from conventional jazz: He was able to integrate elements of various world musics (he often favors tango-inspired passages in his songs), which retain a distinctive flavor, but avoid gimmickry. One critic notes traces of "Erik Satie and Kurt Weill".

The Luries formed a new version of the Lounge Lizards in the early 1990s; prominent members included Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Michael Blake (saxophone), Oren Bloedow (bass guitar), David Tronzo (guitar), Calvin Weston (drums) and Billy Martin (percussion).

Recent years have found the Lounge Lizards less active; John Lurie has been increasingly occupied with writing music for motion picture soundtracks, while Evan Lurie has worked on The Backyardigans, a children's show that highlights multiple musical genres.

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