James Chance

  • James Chance
  • Theme From Grutzi Elvis EP (ZE) 1979 
  • James Chance and the Contortions
  • Live aux Bains Douches (Fr. Invisible) 1980 
  • Live in New York [tape] (ROIR) 1981 
  • Soul Exorcism [tape] (ROIR) 1991 
  • Contortions
  • Buy (ZE/Arista) 1979 
  • James White and the Blacks
  • Off White (ZE/Buddah) 1979 
  • Sax Maniac (Animal) 1982 
  • James White and the Contortions
  • Second Chance (ZE/PVC) 1980 
  • James White
  • Flaming Demonics (ZE/Island) 1983 
  • Various Artists
  • No New York (Antilles) 1978 

Arriving from Milwaukee with a saxophone on his knee, James (Siegfried) Chance/White/Black quickly became the linchpin of the budding New York no wave movement, appearing in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch. More than any of his contemporaries, Chance turned harsh, abrasive music into an art form; at one time or another, almost everyone of any importance on the New York art-rock scene was in his band.

No New York, produced by Brian Eno and shared by three other bands, features four tracks by Chance and the Contortions (drummer Don Christensen, guitarist and future Bush Tetra Pat Place, guitarist Jody Harris, bassist George Scott III and keyboardist Adele Bertei) at their most cacophonous, shattering the limits of taste and anti- commerciality with a mixture of punk and jazz. Recommended in all its jangle. Buy lacks the jagged edge of the No New York material, but expands the Contortions into a first-class, no-holds-barred act, with every note and vocal oozing out Chance’s deranged contempt for man and society in passionately cold renditions of normally pleasant dance music, epitomized by his anthemic “Contort Yourself.”

Theme From Grutzi Elvis separates Chance’s haranguing, bitter vocals from what turns out to be unusual, colorful music. Notably, Chance sings a subdued, oddly touching version of “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.” Live aux Bains Douches features Chance and the Contortions live in Paris; Live in New York demonstrates that there is real emotion energizing Chance’s savage, solipsistic music. (A decade later, ROIR brought out a second live tape, this one from Holland, 1980.)

Off White is a set of funky, demented disco tunes performed with Scott, Harris, Christensen and Place. Though milder and more accessible than his Chance-work, Off White plays freely with his attempts at sexual ennui (“Stained Sheets”) and racial ambiguity (“Almost Black”), and features a wonderfully weird and erotic version of Irving Berlin’s “(Tropical) Heat Wave.” Recommended. After White/Chance left the label, ZE compiled material from Off White and Buy to make Second Chance.

Sax Maniac, which he produced, proved that several years’ absence hadn’t harmed White at all, and that he is a wonderful, inventive sax player. Similar in all respects except personnel to Off White, Sax Maniac (complete with a cover of “That Old Black Magic”) is a fevered masterpiece of white funk.

[Steven Grant]

See also: Bush Tetras, Defunkt, False Prophets, Jody Harris, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks