James White is/was James Chance of the James Chance & The Contortions in a more jazzy disco version of the Contortions. The Contortions were a New York based band in the late 1970’s that first appeared on a compilation produced by Brian Eno entitled No New York.
The No Wave movement was a raw, minimalistic rejection of the New Wave scene that took the DIY ethos of punk and polished it into dance pop music pushed by marketing execs as the “New Wave”.
The No Wave scene instead embraced raw noisy improvisations and helped set some of the foundation for the New York Downtown Improv scene.
The Contortions were the funkiest of the lot, led by James Chance on vocals and screeching sax.
They became “James White and the Blacks” for their second album (presumably taking another name to get around Contortions record contracts). Off White, a sleazy, jazzier, lounge-disco record, “did to disco what they had done to the funk”. A more disco version of the Contortions hit Contort Yourself was offered up with some other tracks that included a sultry cover of “Heatwave” and an orgasmic phone call with Lydia Lunch on PlayStained Sheets.
Eventually The Blacks became almost literally all black, as the original Contortions left and were replaced with a mix of “tight black funk session players, hipster elite jazzmen, and flamboyantly eccentric art world personalities”. Sax Maniac showcases this “dead serious” funk group, while Chance’s humour is still apparent in the playful lyrics of Sax Machine and a cheeky cover of the swing standard, PlayThat Old Black Magic.
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