Two-disc retrospective of scabrous No Wave figure’s searing jazz-punk contortions.
Stevie Chick 2010
As the first aftershocks of New York’s punk explosion – CBGB, Ramones and all the rest – were being felt across the globe, the next generation swept the scene, bringing with them a darker, nastier, more cerebral and art-damaged sound. No Wave, they called it, and as a founder member of the feral, atonal Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with his then-lover, Lydia Lunch, James Chance was at the vanguard.
Chance soon quit the Jerks for his own Contortions, alternating between blowing fiery blasts of alto sax and wading in and assaulting his audience. In contrast to the Jerks’ brutish chaos, the Contortions played their scything punk-funk with the whip-smart discipline of James Brown’s JBs, and Twist Your Soul opens with their cover of Brown’s I Can’t Stand Myself (from epochal Brian Eno-produced 1978 compilation No New York), Chance rewriting the lusty groove into something more unsettling with atonal organ squall, contusive guitar skronk, and Chance’s chilling Jagger-in-Hell howl.
Chance would spend the next few years jumping between the Contortions and his other band, James White and the Blacks, with whom he cut 1979’s Off White, a set of dark punk-disco, the 4/4 grooves offset by blasts of avant sax bleat and lyrics that riffed with uneasy satire upon racial identity, racial stereotypes and racial tension: Almost Black, included here, wrings wicked, uncomfortable humour from organist Adele Bertei and Anya Phillips (his manager/lover) arguing over whether Chance is really black or white.
Cancer would claim Phillips in 1981, The Blacks delivering their final album a year later. Sax Maniac eased off on their earlier jazz-terrorism in favour of a slicker funk sound, its bristling title-track (included here) worthy of the JBs themselves. Still, following an album with new band, Flaming Demonics, Chance would retire from music, making only a handful of appearances with a reunited Contortions since 2001.
Twist Your Soul offers a second disc of live tracks, including white-hot jams from the Contortions’ early days, to a lacerating take on Bedroom Athlete by the reformed group that suggests age has not tempered Chance’s fiery mojo any. A crucial element of the American post-punk tapestry, a No Wave legend, Jon Spencer’s spiritual ancestor: James Chance’s dark art is an acquired taste, but an addictive one, and Twist Your Soul – its tracklisting selected by the man himself – makes for a perfect first hit.
- - -