James Chance and Les Contortions: Cologne, Germany, Germany, February 28. 2013
"I decided to try sax because I wouldn't be a member of the rhythm section and have to worry about playing those [types of] chords," Chance concluded. "When I started The Contortions I wasn't really playing jazz per se. I kind of lost interest in the keyboard. Later, in the eighties, I got back into playing jazz. I really didn't want to play free jazz anymore because I was bored with it. I taught myself a lot of chord changes, but totally different from when I play organ with The Contortions."
Atonal explosions got the night's biggest response, sounded the best and may have been the most natural fit. When Chance, sweating profusely, careened into purely nuanced noise, the faithful screamed along with him. As he ripped through a punked-out minute of psycho-soloing near the show's conclusion it was a price of admission moment and a well-placed, blazing finale.
After leaving the stage, Chance reappeared for an encore like some '70s specter, lost in the extreme. Gazing around the howling hall like a sprinter across the finish line, he caught his breath. "I need my horn," he mused, returning backstage. Indeed, as they locked into "I Can't Stand Myself" it looked like the need was real.
Classical composer Alban Berg, like Franz Liszt before him, experimented with atonality. Like Chance, they were not alone. Thankfully, there have always been artists and audiences outside the expanding edge of tradition. Heaving ideas against the wall of convention and making them do more than shtick can be the measure of inspiration. A gig may be a gig, but much more so if it's in the blood.
This Western European club tour kept Chance sharp. While bigger venues may provide financial incentives, gritty boutique locations like Gebaude 9 offer amiable conditions for more fan interaction. Chance treated his customers right, and apparently drew energy from the crowd response.
"We've played some smaller cities that I've never been to, or even heard of, but the audiences are extremely enthusiastic," said a psyched-up, 60-year-old Chance. "There's a lot of younger people, which is what I like to see because you can't base your work with just an audience my age. People my age don't often go out to concerts much even if they like you. I'm really happy to see a lot of people in their twenties and thirties. They seem to relate and they like the new material, which doesn't always happen with acts of my vintage. "
Chance was accurate in his assessment of the audience and their chronology. Maybe the wide-ranging crowd showed up because Chance is currently playing some of his most accessible music ever.
Maybe more of the jazz world is catching up to the contortions of James Chance.
No New York?
Yes, new Cologne.
Les Contortions did what they were supposed to do. They contorted well. It was a very good show.