The Flying Luttenbachers

Flying Luttenbachers

Normally, to write about a band as batshit at The Flying Luttenbachers, I’d be drunk by now. Instead, I’m sitting here sipping Glenlivet single malt like a total boss. Why? Because today marks not one, but two major milestones in the history of our stupid little blog.

First: Today’s our five year anniversary! What’d you get us? Nothing? That’s OK. Technically, you all got us something, because today’s other major milestone is this: We just racked up our one millionth page view. How fucking cool is that? OK, if you divide one million by five years, it’s maybe less cool, but still. Considering our booze habits, obscure subject matter and complete lack of self-promotional skills, we’ve done all right.

OK, now that we’re done patting ourselves on the back: The Flying Luttenbachers. We’ve been saving these guys for a special occasion like today, because they are truly one of the strangest, noisiest, craziest bands ever to turn their amps up to 11.

The brainchild of drummer/ringleader Weasel Walter, for 17 years they terrorized audiences with a mix of free jazz, skronk, punk, metal, noise-rock, no wave and whatever else whoever was in the studio or onstage with Walter that day cared to unleash. They were like a more aggro Naked City, a jazzier Locust, and a faster Captain Beefheart, all marinated in fuck-you Chicago attitude and imbued with the shredding super-powers of your favorite technical death metal band. Weasel Walter called it “brutal prog.”

Oh, and there’s also an apocalyptic storyline about a cosmic battle between a void, a behemoth, and a giant robot buried beneath the earth who can only emerge after the human race has been eradicated. All told via the liner notes and song titles like “Rise of the Iridescent Behemoth,” because all the music is instrumental.

Here, suck on some right now:

That was from the 1995 album Destroy All Music, featuring the band’s confusingly named original saxophonist Chad Organ, along with Weasel on drums, Dylan Posa on guitar, Jeb Bishop on bass and trombone, and Ken Vandermark on sax and clarinet. And I’m not sure I bothered to tell you all that, because that’s one of about 20 different lineups the band went through and it’s not like I’m going to name them all. I suppose some might call Destroy All Music the Luttenbachers’ most mind-blowing work, but I dunno. A few years later, they released this:

That’s from the 1998 album Gods of Chaos, which featured a power trio version of the Luttenbachers with Chuck Falzone on guitar and Bill Pisarri on bass. Then there’s this:

What you’re hearing there is Weasel Walter jamming good with two bassists: Jonathan Hischke on the high parts, or “air” bass, and Alex Perkolup holding down the low end with his “earth” bass. Who needs those extra strings, anyway?

Towards the end of the Luttenbachers’ 17-year run, Weasel Walter seems like he was getting frustrated with his band’s revolving-door lineup. In the liner notes for the final Luttenbachers album, 2007’s Incarceration by Abstraction, he actually specifically says that he intended to record the album with guitarists Ed Rodriguez and Mick Barr…but they weren’t available, so he did the whole thing by himself.

At the same time he released Incarceration by Abstraction, Walter Weasel announced that the Luttenbachers had “ceased operation.” He’s since moved to New York and now holds down gigs in two bands, Cellular Chaos and Behold…The Arctopus. Both of which are pretty crazy, intense bands…but we still hold out hope that Weasel will reconvene some version of the Luttenbachers one of these days, because their live shows look like they were absolutely insane.

We’ll leave you with our favorite Flying Luttenbachers, which has nothing to do with the rest of the band’s output but is just too damn much fun not to include. This is from an appearance sometime in early ’00s on the Chicago cable access show Chic-a-Go-Go. The song is “De Futura” from that two-bassists 2002 album, Infection and Decline. And, by the way, it’s a cover of the French prog-rock/Zeuhl band Magma. Thanks to reader John for pointing that to us. We never would’ve figured that shit out on our own.

Links:

Advertisements

Sun Ra

Sun Ra

The man born Herman “Sonny” Blount, better known to his colleagues, fans and disciples as Sun Ra, would have turned 100 today. Or rather, he is turning 100 today. He’s just doing it somewhere on Saturn, after the end of time.

More than any other jazz artist, Sun Ra created a whole cosmology around his music. Dressed in his flowing gold robes and Egyptian headdresses, he presided over a cacophonous blend of hard bop, New Orleans stride, free jazz, African-inspired polyrhythms, squiggly synth excursions and psychedelic jazz-rock fusion that still sounds otherworldly today. He claimed to be from Saturn, which was revealed to him in a vision he had as a young man of aliens with “one little antenna on each ear” and “a little antenna over each eye,” who told him it was his mission to speak to the people of Earth through his music. And speak he did.

Sun Ra’s recording career spanned five decades and a bewildering array of styles, from early masterpieces of comparatively straightforward, Thelonious Monk-style bebop like 1959’s Jazz in Silhouette to more abstract but still very jazzy late-period works like 1990’s Purple Night. In between, he pioneered the use of the electric piano and synthesizer in jazz, released an Afro-futurist sci-fi film and a string of groundbreaking, space-themed jazz fusion albums, and built up a stage show so elaborate that his Sun Ra Arkestra became, according to his official online bio, “the only jazz orchestra that brings a tailor on tour.”

It’s hard to know where to start with Sun Ra’s prolific output—so much so that iTunes, which just began releasing digitally remastered versions of his catalog this week, has created something called the “Explore the Cosmos” series that breaks up his oeuvre into more easily digestible, thematically linked chunks (for example, you can download the “Outer Space” section of the Sun Ra catalog, or the “Hard Bop” section, or even just the “Percussion” section, if you’re really into the parts where it’s basically just a bunch of people chanting over bongos). But probably the best-known work from his golden ’60s/’70s era is his 1972 album Space Is the Place, which later also became the name of that sci-fi film we were telling you about. The title track became the Sun Ra Arkestra’s theme song over the years.

Here’s a fantastic clip of them performing “Space Is the Place,” along with one of their peppiest numbers, “Face the Music.” (Plus, at the six-minute mark, an excerpt of an interview with Sun Ra talking about his visit to Saturn and how “music can wash clothes.”) I’m not sure what year this is from, but Sun Ra’s band is really at the peak of their powers here, a Parliament/Funkadelic (one of many bands they influenced) for the jazzbo set:

And here’s another of Sun Ra’s most famous numbers, from the 1982 album Nuclear War, which asks the immortal question, “Whatchu gonna do without yo ass?”

Here’s a complete list of the albums that were just issued in iTunes, complete with downloadable PDF liner notes by our hero, outsider music guru Irwin Chusid. It’s our understanding that many of these titles have been out of print or hard to find for many years, although we haven’t researched the Sun Ra catalog deeply enough to confirm this. Some of them contain previously unreleased or bootleg-only bonus material; 1966’s The Nubians of Plutonia, for example, has four bonus tracks, including a previously unreleased studio version of “Spontaneous Simplicity,” a flute-fueled meditation best known from its live version on 1968’s Pictures of Infinity. If you’re willing to live with downloads instead of physical product, it’s a potential treasure trove of Sun Ra ephemera.

Supersonic Jazz  (1957)
Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth (1958)
Angels and Demons At Play (1965)
Interstellar Low Ways (1966)
Jazz in Silhouette (1959)
Nubians of Plutonia (1966)
Sound Sun Pleasure (1970)
We Travel the Spaceways (1967)
Fate in a Pleasant Mood (1965)
Holiday for Soul Dance (1970)
Bad and Beautiful (1972)
The Invisible Shield (1974)
When Sun Comes Out (1963)
Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (1967)
Monorails and Satellites, Vol. 1 (1968)
Other Planes of There (1966)
The Magic City (1966)
Strange Strings (1967)
Atlantis (1969)
Astro Black (1972)
Universe in Blue (1972)

Links:

Naked City

Naked City

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but today marks the addition of our 200th band to The Weird List. I don’t think anybody, including us, thought we could keep at it this long…and honestly, without you amazing readers out there in Interweb Land, we wouldn’t have. So thank you. And now that we’ve gotten all that mushy shit out of the way…

We couldn’t make just any band our 200th. We had to go with a classic. And few weird bands are weirder or more classic than John Zorn’s Naked City, the whiplash jazz/punk/surf/lounge/thrash/ambient/noise quintet that blew into the world in the late ’80s and blew out again just five years later, leaving a trail of ringing ears, confused jazzbos and grotesque album covers in their wake.

Naked City grew out of an eclectic downtown Manhattan music scene in the late ’80s that coalesced around the original Knitting Factory. Punks went to see jazz combos; jazz musicians joined punk bands. You could see free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor one night and Sonic Youth the next. Mike Doughty, the future lead singer of Soul Coughing, worked the door. If I had a time machine, right after I killed Hitler, I would go to the Knitting Factory circa 1990.

The ringleader of Naked City was an angry 36-year-old saxophonist named John Zorn, who had been active as an experimental composer and musician for over a decade. A fan of both avant-classical experimenter John Cage and cartoon soundtrack composer Carl Stalling, Zorn spent much of his early career devising what he called “game pieces”: essentially, highly structured improvisations featuring a mix of jazz, rock, classical and unconventional instrumentation. For some reason, most of Zorn’s game pieces had sports-themed names; here’s one, for example, called “Archery,” and another called “Lacrosse.”

To give you the best idea of how weird Zorn’s game pieces could get, here are two different versions of his most famous game, “Cobra”: first, from a 1992 documentary called On the Edge: Improvisation in Music; next, from a 2008 Zorn concert in Tel Aviv featuring Naked City drummer Joey Baron, jazz guitar god Marc Ribot and members of Mr. Bungle. In both clips, you can see Zorn “conducting” the game with yellow cue cards, which he mostly seems to use to whip his musicians into ever greater frenzies of atonal chaos.

In addition to his game pieces, Zorn also dabbled in experimental rock music (with Golden Palominos, among others), duck calls as musical instruments (most notably on The Classic Guide to Strategy), traditional Japanese music, and Ennio Morricone. But he was also listening to a lot of punk, speed metal and early grindcore—influences that really began to exert themselves on his music in the late ’80s, first with Naked City and then with even more overtly hardcore-influenced projects like Spy vs. Spy, his album-length tribute to free jazz legend Ornette Coleman, and Painkiller, his jazz/dub/grindcore trio with Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris and bassist Bill Laswell.

But enough about John Zorn’s lengthy CV. Let’s get to Naked City already, shall we?

Zorn founded Naked City in 1988 with fellow NYC jazz players Bill Frisell on guitar, Fred Frith on bass, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards and Joey Baron on drums. Borrowing the Naked City name from Weegee’s notorious book of gritty tabloid photography and the 1946 film noir inspired by it, Zorn seems to have originally envisioned the project as a chance to playfully riff on gangster movie soundtracks; the group’s self-titled debut album (which featured a graphic Weegee photo on its cover) included punked-up versions of the James Bond theme, complete with gunshots, and Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. But it also featured several hyper-condensed blasts of sheer noise, with titles like “Igneous Ejaculation” and “Demon Sanctuary,” often featuring the banshee-getting-a-prostate-exam vocals of Yamatsuka Eye of the Boredoms.

The band’s second album, Torture Garden, ditched the gangster-soundtrack angle entirely and just crammed 42 “hardcore miniatures” onto a single disc (including a few repurposed pieces from their debut). The shortest, “Hammerhead,” was just eight seconds long. The one that sounded the most like some kind of mission statement was called “Jazz Snob Eat Shit.”

Over the next four years, Naked City would release five more albums, each more bizarre than the last. By the 1992 album Radio, they were skipping with abandon from thrash metal to prog-rock to country to free jazz to Looney Tunes soundtracks, sometimes all in the same song. Their live shows became breakneck tours the last 50 years of popular music, often accompanied by the otherworldly shrieks of Eye or their other favorite live guest vocalist, Mr. Bungle’s Mike Patton.

Alas, it was all too weird to last. After 1993’s moodier, more ambient Absinthe, Naked City broke up and John Zorn went on to other, only slightly less nutty projects like his klezmer-inspired group Masada and the Moonchild Trio, his long-running collaboration with Joey Baron, Mike Patton and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn.

But for awhile there, Naked City was truly, in the eyes of many, the Weirdest Band in the World. Naked City fans are a diehard breed, even among fans of weird music. This, from a 2005 review of the band’s complete recordings, is only slightly more extreme than usual: “Every time I move into a new place—even before I cart in the boxes—I set up a stereo and blast that [debut] LP in the living room: It cleans out the evil spirits and even clears out bad smells.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the guy who wrote that probably moves a lot.

We generally cater to short attention spans around here, and Naked City’s oeuvre offers plenty of material for the ADD crowd. So here’s 55 seconds of Zorn and co., with Eye on vocals:

But believe me when I tell you: To fully appreciate how truly, awesomely insane Naked City was, you need to watch all 93 minutes of this 1990 performance from a jazz festival in Switzerland. Or at least watch until about the 7:05 mark, when it takes Zorn longer to introduce the song “Igneous Ejaculation” than it does for the band to play it.

So to all you Naked City fans who read this blog: Sorry it took us 200 bands to get to them. And now, on to the next 200…

(P.S. Many, many readers have asked us to add Naked City to The Weird List over the years, but we have to give a special shout-out to reader Salvatore Intravaia for answering our call for 200th band suggestions on Facebook. Well-played, Salvatore! As soon as we get around to printing more T-shirts, you’ll get one.)

Links:

New Little Women album “Lung” comes out this Tuesday

Little Women
Photo by Ben Goldstein

Good news from the Land of Skronk: jazz/noise quartet Little Women is releasing their first album of new material in three years this Tuesday, April 9th. It’s called Lung, which makes sense given that their previous album was called Throat and the one before that was Teeth. We can only assume they’re gearing up to release Bowel in 2016.

Lung features a single, 42-minute composition recorded by the band—saxophonists Travis Laplante and Darius Jones, guitarist Andrew Smiley and drummer Jason Nazary—in a single take. We’ll let them describe the rest:

The main themes/forms of Lung all have the shape of a downfall of something beautiful. We were working with a Shakespearian form from its conception. The main themes that developed organically throughout the process of creating Lung are: the life and death of humans, the inhale and the exhale, the death of earth (both seasonally and ultimately). These themes exist and are encompassed on both the microcosmic and macrocosmic level, meaning they exist simultaneously inside every sound, every phrase, every section, and the entire piece.

Got all that? Roughly translated, based on the sound clips we just listened to on their label’s website, this seems to mean something like: We’re going to use our saxophones to rip your face off and show it to you before you die.

Lung will be available via Little Women’s label, AUM Fidelity, on CD and as an MP3 download. They’re not releasing it on vinyl because, according to the AUM website, “this composition was created to be listened to in its entirety, and LPs require an interruption.” So there.

If you happen to live in the band’s hometown, New York City, you can let Little Women rip your face off in person at the 92YTribeca on April 20th. Tickets and more information here.

Shibusashirazu Orchestra

Shibusashirazu Orchestra

Wikipedia describes this week’s weird band as a “free jazz orchestra,” which is a little like saying that Fight Club was a movie about making soap. Meet the Shibusashirazu Orchestra, and let’s all appreciate, once again, how exponentially more batshit crazy the Japanese are capable of making anything, even something as already batshit crazy as free jazz.

Shibusashirazu, which apparently translates to something like, “don’t be cool,” was founded in 1988 by a guy named Daisuke Fuwa, who outside of Shibusashirazu seems like a perfectly nice, unassuming jazz bassist who makes music like this. Fuwa assembled a group of his fellow jazz musicians to perform music for an avant-garde theater troupe called Hakken no Kai, and that somehow morphed into the insanity that is the Shibusashirazu Orchestra.

Since then, the band has continued to tour all over Japan and Europe with a rotating cast of some 20 to 30 musicians and performers, the most striking of which are the near-naked butoh dancers, covered in white body paint and writhing, climbing the scaffolding and engaging in general freakery. There are also video projections, giant balloon creatures, live action painters and enough all-around sensory overload to make Cirque du Soleil look like C-SPAN.

For awhile, we were starting to think Shibusashirazu only had one song, because every single YouTube video seemed to feature the same giant horn-fueled jam session with the same 14-note refrain that sounds vaguely like the hero’s theme from some ’60s martial arts movie. But eventually we were able to figure out that they have, in fact, released eight albums’ worth of material—some of which even just sounds like conventional modern jazz. It’s almost weirder in a way to watch those eerie butoh dancers gesticulating to a nice Kenny Kirkland-style piano solo.

Oddly, two readers (thanks, Sam and Giovanni!) suggested we add Shibusashirazu to the Weird List within a week of each other—and they both forwarded the same video, which features a particularly over-the-top version of that signature 14-note jam session, taken from a 2002 festival in Fuji. So we present it here for your enjoyment. This is really one of those videos where, just when you think it can’t get any nuttier, it does. Our two favorite parts are the giant mylar balloon dragon and the Caucasian dude at the 2:12 mark shaking his head at the camera in disbelief. Oh, and the dancers dressed like a swarm of bees. And the…oh, just watch it.

Links: