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The John Lurie National Orchestra: The Invention of Animals

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Saxophonist John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards could function like an orchestra. On its last album, 1998’s Queen of All Ears, there was bass, drums, guitar, percussion, keys, cello and three horns. Lurie’s National Orchestra, though, was a minimal thing. Featuring Grant Calvin Weston on drums, Billy Martin on percussion and the leader on alto and soprano, the Orchestra was free of both harmony and the basslines that hold a group together. It had no choice but to make primitive music, the kind of sounds you’d imagine scoring a séance in a remote village. It was stunning-magnificent in its roughness and rawness. A compilation featuring a pair of previously unreleased live tracks, The Invention of Animals is like a vivid, hypnotic dream about the beginning of time. It will stay with you.

The pieces feel more like chapters from the same book than individual stories, but “The Beast,” released prior on the soundtrack to Lurie’s cult-classic TV show, Fishing With John, stands out. After about 10 seconds of clear, ethereal solo sax, Weston and Martin enter with a tribal groove that seems to sprout from the earth itself. And there’s an attitude to this beat-fierce, brave, intense, swaggering-that cuts right to the core of your being. Lurie’s playing is a little wilder than usual here, too-spiraling off in different directions, saying all different things. It feels like the trio is marching into a battle they know they won’t win. Running less than three minutes, “The Beast” leaves you heartbroken when it ends. The whole album does.

Originally Published