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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Crowd's 'All Ears' for Lounge Lizards' Set

June 15, 1998|NATALIE NICHOLS

"If you see someone talking, don't shush them, just punch 'em," joked Lounge Lizards leader John Lurie at the El Rey Theatre on Friday. The New York-based saxophonist and his octet had half-hypnotized an attentive throng of hipsters with their funky, cinematic chamber jazz, but Lurie still thought some were chatting too loudly through the quiet parts.

That the room actually was more subdued in subsequent low-volume moments was testimony to the rewards of letting yourself be silenced by the blend of discord and melody in the group's warmly intellectual instrumentals, many drawn from the band's latest album, "Queen of All Ears." At once perfectly natural and incredibly arty, the 2 1/2-hour set was as eccentric and compelling as Lurie himself--a movie actor ("Stranger Than Paradise," "Down by Law"), film composer and now host of the offbeat cable show "Fishing With John," in which he trawls the waterways with such celebrities as Tom Waits and Matt Dillon.

Building on the tough melodiousness and off-kilter rhythms of Thelonious Monk, the current members of Lurie's 20-year-old collective mixed elements of swing, African and klezmer music-- sometimes all in one tune. Performing in ensemble, solo and in small groups, the players wielded brass, strings, percussion and woodwinds with fluidity and fire, keeping chaos at bay with deceptive ease and crafting a variety of palpable moods.

As eggheaded as this all sounds, however, the songs never sacrificed emotion for technique. The players' almost extrasensory rapport remained most important, for it kept these complex compositions completely human.

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