"We were working in kind of a free jazz idiom," he says. "There was an avoidance of normal pulse, rhythm, harmony and melody. Now what we're doing with the two new guys is almost the exact opposite -- it's like all structure. We're playing these sort of mathematically derived chamber music pieces from hell."
Free death? Chamber music from hell? Obviously something left of center is going on here. "As an individual entity, I certainly don't fit into any preset
category," Walter admits.
"I don't take pride in that so much that it is the reality. Even in the free-music scene a lot of my opinions
and perspectives have clashed with other people's."
The Flying Luttenbachers began life in Chicago around 1992 when drummer Walter joined forces with two saxophonists, including the considerably older Hal Russell from the NRG Ensemble. Inspired by jazz legends like John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, the group staged wild improvisations that reflected the circus-like atmosphere implied by their name. Over the next decade, the Luttenbachers shed musicians (including a pre-fame Ken Vandermark) like a snake sheds its skin, constantly renewing itself but with Walter always remaining as the core.
Through several albums and countless gigs, the group built a reputation as chaotic pranksters, perverse sadists and cathartic saviors. On records like Destroy All Music and Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers, overkill is piled on top of overdrive in brash attempts to lend new meaning to terms like turmoil and impact. Infused throughout is not only a considerable level of musicianship but also heavy doses of Walter's dark sense of humor. So what seems to the unsuspecting as repulsive actually turns out, on closer listen, to be propulsive. The Luttenbachers' music sits comfortably alongside that of Japan's manic Ruins, John Zorn's formidable Naked City and the most awe-inspiring forms of extreme metal.
Now the beast has again molted its outer layer, leaving Walter in a difficult yet familiar position. "The group is trying to get our collective shit together," he says. "It's a new band once again and every time I start from scratch, it's an uphill battle to try to be good. It's myself, once again demoted to being drummer, and two electric bass players [Alex Perkolup and Jonathan Hischke]. It's definitely not like it was last year."
That the band exists at all without sax will come as a surprise to many that have grown accustomed to their free jazz scree. "Who's in the lineup is a bit arbitrary as far as the instrumentation goes," Walter says. "It really depends on who's available that's interesting. Not so much like, 'I need a bassoonist.' I mean, if I could get a bassoonist to play this music, that would be really good, but in the meantime I guess I've got two bass players."
The direction of the new band reflects Walter's current interests and a constant need to challenge not only himself, but also the listening public. "The writing that I'm doing for the band now makes the old stuff look like 'Louie Louie,'" he says. "And it's only gonna get worse from here when I figure out what we can pull off. I feel an affinity for progressive rock right now. I mean all I listen to is Yes albums lately, which isn't the hippest choice of music even being a progressive rock fan. But they have the kind of information I'm taking in right now. Maybe it's a reaction to what I see as a glut of mediocre improvisation that's totally disposable right now."
So if the Luttenbachers are no longer free death, then what are they?
"Brutal prog. That's what our T-shirts for this tour are going to say. I always like to start a new non-movement if possible."
The Flying Luttenbachers play Fri., July 13, with the Locust, Good Clean Fun and Waiffle at Under the Couch, corner of Macmillan and Turner streets. For
information, call 404-894-4099.
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