by Gary Lucas
review by Mark McCawley
Artist: Gary Lucas
Genre: Instrumental, Acoustic
Label: Northern Spy Records
Release date: 1 October 2013
Gary Lucas is among that contemporary cadre of post-Zappa guitarists — Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally, Steve Vai, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo (to mention a few) — who are as at ease with complex compositions, regular use of dissonance and atonality and polyrhythmic time signatures, as they are with collaborations and on-the-spot improvisations. After well over 20 acclaimed solo albums to date, this Grammy-nominated songwriter and composer, soundtrack composer for film and television, and collaborator with such musicians as Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed, John Cale, Nick Cave, John Zorn, Bryan Ferry, Joan Osborne — Lucas shows no sign of slowing down creatively any time soon.
Indeed, the release of Cinefantastique by Northern Spy Records certainly dovetails Gary Lucas’s most recent work into their already boldly avant-garde catalog. A Brooklyn-based independent record label, Northern Spy Records was founded in 2010 by Tom Abbs and Adam Downey, both former employees of the legendary ESP-Disk’ imprint (an avant-garde imprint founded by lawyer Bernard Stollman in 1964 and re-established in 2005 — once home to Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, the Fugs, and other late-’60s visionaries). Time Out New York called Northern Spy an “Intrepid local label, a haven for avant-rock acts, experimental jazzers and other worthy outliers.” In 2011, East Village Radio named Northern Spy one of the 4 most important independent record labels in New York. An artist-run record label, many Northern Spy artists are known for their tremendous skills in avant-garde, noise rock and experimental jazz.
“I’ve always loved film music,” Lucas says. “From an early age, I used to show home movies in the basement along with horror movies on 8mm, like Frankenstein and Dracula. I landed a commission when I was in college from an upstate medical facility in Syracuse to write music for a film they were making called Aquatic Ecology. Rod Serling was the narrator. They asked me to come up with a guitar music theme, which I did. That was my first film soundtrack. Later I worked with them as an assistant, editing a film on prosthetic knee operations—horrible, really bloody.
“During the 60s, a film theme could easily reach pop charts. The paradigm changed in the 70s-80s, as lot of rock and pop music became licensed for placement in snippets of scenes and then the album would be marketed to you as a soundtrack, though the music in the film really wasn’t the same thing. I like composed film music.”
Among the 17 cuts (some live, most self-recorded, undubbed) chosen for Cinefantastique, Lucas reminds the listener that, indeed, much of the subtle emotive qualities of the composed film music he so loves has been lost to the not so subtle rock and pop music hooks marketed in their stead. What meticulously illuminates this schism are Lucas’ live solo guitar scores for classic flicks of the silent era, such as Abel Gance’s J’accuse, René Clair’s Entr’acte, and in particular, the following score Lucas composed for Spanish Dracula — a second, alternate, and as many would hold, a much superior version of “Dracula” (1931, d. Enrique Tovar Alvalos and George Melford) that was filmed at night on the same sets and sound stages as the famous Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi version:
I was approached at the Jecheon Festival by young British documentary film maker Sebastian Doggart, who was impressed with my live score accompanying “The Golem” (co-written with Walter Horn) which I’d also performed there. He told me if I gave him some music for his new documentary about Condoleeza Rice, “American Faust”, he would recommend me to play at the Havana Film Festival. The thing was, I would need a Latin-themed film in order to be invited there. I recalled that the legendary Spanish “Dracula”, filmed in 1931 at night in Hollywood on the same sets as Lugosi’s “Dracula” but with a Latin-speaking cast for the burgeoning Latin market, was famously music “free” and hit on the idea of composing a non-stop score to accompany the film live.
Besides Gary Lucas’ own original live solo scores, which themselves make Cinefantastique a ‘must have’ collection for any Gary Lucas fan — it is through Lucas’ treatment of Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo and Psycho, Nino Rota‘s score for Federico Fellini‘s Casanova, and Krzysztof Komeda‘s Lullaby for Rosemary’s Baby, and Alberto Iglesias’ Sex and Lucia that reveals Lucas tremendous skill as a guitarist and cinematic afficionado as well.
Gary Lucas — Vertigo / Psycho (from ‘Cinefantastique’, Northern Spy Records, Brooklyn, New York, 1 October 2013)
Gary Lucas — Fellini’s Casanova Theme (Live at the Iridium Club, NYC, New York, 2 July 2011)
Gary Lucas — Lullaby for Rosemary’s Baby (from ‘Cinefantastique’, Northern Spy Records, Brooklyn, New York, 1 October 2013)
Gary Lucas — Sex and Lucia (Live at the 5th International Jecheon Film and Music Festival, Cheongpung Lakeside Stage, Jecheon, Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, 15 August 2009)
Whatever the film, Lucas delivers each score on Cinefantastique with the same verve and devotion to the music that fans have seen in all of Gary Lucas’ work. Don’t be surprised when Cinefantastique Volume II is released. Only that if Lucas’ solo work is any indication, it will push boundaries of what film scores can do.UG
Gary Lucas is an acclaimed American guitarist, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, and an international recording artist with over a dozen solo albums to date, and a soundtrack composer for film and television. He has been described as “one of the best and most original guitarists in America” (David Fricke, 16 Nov. 2006, Rolling Stone); a “legendary leftfield guitarist” (The Guardian, 24 Dec. 2005); “the thinking man’s guitar hero” (The New Yorker, 8 Jan. 2007), and one of “the most innovative and challenging guitarists playing today” (fRoots, March 2002).
Lucas tours the world solo, as well as with several different ensembles including his longtime band NYC-based group, Gods and Monsters, a psychedelic rock band based around Lucas’s guitar playing and songwriting. The band recently completed a tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia in the company of former Talking Heads keyboardist/producer Jerry Harrison, currently a member of the band and the producer of their most recent album. Other regular members of the band include Ernie Brooks, Jason Candler, and Billy Ficca. Lucas also lectures on guitar and the music business in general. As of 2007, Lucas has performed in some 35 countries.
Gary Lucas was born in Syracuse, New York USA. He obtained a degree in English from Yale University (1974), before establishing his career in music first as a college DJ and then as Music Director at his college radio station, WYBC FM. He married his wife, Caroline (from London England), in 1984, and presently lives in New York City.