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James Chance And Marla Mase At The Cutting Room, Thursday, June 12th, 2014, Reviewed

James Chance In A Cold Sweat

James Chance In A Cold Sweat

I invited my friend, singer songwriter David Bronson to catch James Chance And The True Groove All Stars at the Cutting Room last night. David has been in the studio with Carlos Alomar and touring here and there and I hadn’t seen him in awhile and though David was only vaguely aware of the living legend No Wave saxophonist Chance, barely two songs into Chance’s performance he rattled off some names: Ornette Coleman, Van Morrison and of course James Brown. 

Chance is the sort of performer who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those sort of names. The saxophonist is a spitfire, a power plug,  a groove monster, a great singer, a capable pianist and a musician who seems to constantly play notes that don’t actually exist and at 61 years of age he has hardly missed a beat….  in most ways. 35 years ago he would have got off stage and beaten the snot out of a lifeless audience.

Chance’s powerful 45 minute set was preceded by Marla Mase’s thirty minute set and what they had in common was both sets were way too short. I’ve only seen Marla, who has one of the best albums of the year out right this second, perform a full set once before, but she is an intense and generous performer. Marla shared the stage with the True Groovers, making room for Tomas Doncker to play a show stopping electrifying guitar, sort of funk white metal hybrid. “I’ve got to get him on one of my records” Bronson whispered and it is surprising, but probably time related, that Doncker doesn’t carve out a niche as a session musician.

Marla was a professional spitfire, ranging from “Drowned In Blue”  through title track of the new one ” Half-Life” to the song she wrote for a Peace conference in China the thrilling ultimate song of the set “Piece Of Peace”. Later she would frug on stage to Chance and leave us wanting to see a longer set if possible.

Chance has always had two halves to him, one half is the jazz fanatic and the other half the James Brown collection Jahn Xavier once dubbed the largest he has ever seen. From a galvanized “I Can’t Stand Myself” with Chance yelping and howling to a so loud it was weird “Night And Day” with a two piece brass section, he tried to meld the two, and came close with “Street With No Name”. The revelation here though wasn’t James’  alto sax, or jazz chops, or even piano skills, all of which were more or less a given, but his vocal chops. The man can really sing, I’ve mentioned before that the man sounds like his saxophone the same way Louis Armstrong sounds like trumpet and last night it was clearer than ever. What made “Night And Day” so bizarre was the aggressiveness of his singing and the full title set closing “Contort Yourself” was a tortured, curdled blood destroy your larynx , finale laying right back on the bass. Then he stored off stage. No encore.

The thing about Chance is, like David Byrne, who Bronson mentioned more than once last night, and Lou Reed, and Miles Davis, Chance is not lovable. He isn’t cute. There is something off center about him as a performer, a sort of nolle prosequi which was at the heart of both punk and No Wave: he doesn’t play nice. This saves him some headaches, among them the question of aging and it gives stuff like “Design To Kill” an entirely timeless quality: it exists in its aggression.

And the True Groove All Stars were nothing if not aggressive: lead by Doncker , they attacked everything they touched, right through both sets, with unqualified vigor and power. It is like they are Mafia musclemen in a connected night club keeping everybody on track.  Easily my fave rock band in the world right, there is nothing these guys can’t play, nothing they can’t do, they are as comfortable with country as with the deepest funk grooves imaginable. They are simply the best band around and if you’ve never seen em, you’re crazy. They are playing a midnight gig on Saturday July 12th at Blue Note. Really, catch em.

Meanwhile, Chance has his deluxe remastered Buy coming out any day now and what I find amazing is how the 61 year old Chance is the equal of the 26 year old Chance. Now all he has to do is punch out some of this lazy audience and we’ll be all set.

Grade: A-

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