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June 1999

The Lounge Lizards
Queen of All Ears
Strange and Beautiful Music

One of the more ignominious moments in jazz history occurred when George Wein decided to present rock as the wave of the future of jazz at his Newport Festival, declaring that the "anti-jazz" of the black avant garde had no audience. The sad scene was played out by musicians who couldn't even reproduce their recorded solos before rioting fans. If the post-punks who would come for a glimpse of actor/artist/altoist John Lurie will behave, I would like to nominate The Lounge Lizards as a possible antidote for the anti-jazz being promoted by over-hyped neo-boppers at contemporary festivals. The Lizards' music isn't jazz, but it is intelligent and rhythmically and harmonically interesting (it ain't rock either, in other words) and, despite the ultra-hip trappings, it has an almost innocent directness that can transcend stylistic prejudice. The implied anti-intellectualism might appeal to rockheads who think jazz too "difficult." The cult of the soloist gets short shrift, though the music relies heavily on group improvisation in the highly colored riffs and patterns that form the basis of most of the proceedings. I do wonder, looking at the cover art, if Lurie, like Captain Beefheart, might not express himself best in the visual, but the music here works so well as to represent a healthy challenge to our norms.

Originally published in June 1999
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