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James Chance & The Contortions

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New York City (1977 – 1979)

One of the original punk jazz groups of the New York No Wave scene, the Contortions were led by saxophonist James Chance, aka James White (birth name James Siegfried). The group formed in New York City in 1977 and ended along with the No Wave scene in 1979.

Their first recorded appearance, credited solely as the Contortions, was on the 1978 compilation, No New York. The following year, two albums were issued almost simultaneously on the ZE label, Buy the Contortions (an extreme jazz-punk LP) and Off White (a disco/standards hybrid released under the moniker James White and the Blacks, with one side vocals, the other side instrumentals). The same line-up recorded both records, although no one aside from Chance appears or is credited on the jacket of the Buy album. Following Chance and manager Anya Philips’ acrimonious break with many of the original Contortions, the line-up changed frequently.

Chance was romantically linked with another New York No Wave luminary, Lydia Lunch; in 1979 Lunch appeared on the album Off White as “Stella Rico”). Original Contortions guitarist Pat Place went on to found the group the Bush Tetras. Guitarist Jody Harris formed neo-surf combo the Raybeats with Don Christensen, George Scott III and Pat Irwin. Keyboardist Adele Bertei formed the Bloods. In 1979 George Scott toured with John Cale as documented on the album Sabotage Live. Some of the African-American band members of “the Blacks,” notably Joseph Bowie, later separated from Chance and formed the band Defunkt.

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