The Flying Luttenbachers
The Flying Luttenbachers
Free jazz/punk/metal group
Weasel Walter is a man on a quest. He is on a search for that elusive mix of extreme musical sound that will heighten existence. “What I am interested in,” he told Contemporary Musicians, “is creating an abstract music with superhuman qualities. I’m trying to realize a medium in which I can attempt to transcend the mediocrity of the human condition that surrounds me.” The vehicle for that quest is the Flying Luttenbachers. Along the way the band has morphed repeatedly from free jazz to no wave, punk jazz, industrial sound collage, and death metal. The Flying Luttenbachers have also passed through a series of band line-ups that have included the cream of Chicago’s recent improv scene, including Ken Vander-mark, Jeb Bishop, and Hal Russell. Walter provides the only constant, and the history of the band is the story of his demanding musical nature.
The founding member of the Flying Luttenbachers is multi-instrumentalist Walter, who grew up playing drums, guitar, and saxophone in Rockford, Illinois. From the beginning, Walter was attracted to the more outré and extreme musical forms. He played in a series of local bands, punk and otherwise, in Rockford. At the same time, he was devouring Albert Ayler and any other free jazz he could track down in suburban Illinois.
In the fall of 1990, he moved to Chicago to attend college where, with his friend Bill Pisarri, he founded a precursor to the Flying Luttenbachers, the Sound Improvisation Collective. The Collective seems to have been something of a musical terrorist group. Its usual venue was the dorm lobby where the group let loose a flurry of music and designed sounds to provoke and antagonize bystander and listener alike. Police were summoned regularly to break up performances. The flyer Walter posted for the Collective’s single public performance, cited as the Fortress of the Flying Luttenbachers, offers a description of the group’s music: “the eczema of dada, Ornette, No Wave, Partch, Punk, Ayler, Company and Beefheart.”
As the 1991 -92 school year began, Walter was accepted for private study with Hal Russell. Russell was a legendary underground jazz figure in Chicago whose recordings had excited Walter back in Rockford; Walter had been drawn to the school specifically because Russell was on the faculty. Walter took his sax to the first lesson, and when the two engaged in a fiery improvised duet, something clicked. Russell suggested they form a duo in which both could give free rein to their multi-instrumental proclivities. On December 6, 1991, Walter and Russell christened the group the Flying Luttenbachers, Luttenbacher being Russell’s family name. Saxist Chad Organ, a mutual acquaintance of both Walter and Russell, had also been invited over to play the day the band was birthed, and it was decided that he should join the group as well.
Members include Jeb Bishop, bass; Michael Colligan, reeds; Chuck Falzone, guitar, vocals; Kurt Johnson, bass; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello; Chad Organ, sax, moog synthesizer, vocals; Bill Pis arri, bass, vocals; Dylan Posa, guitar; Hal Russell, sax; Ken Vandermark, reeds; Weasel Walter (born May 18, 1972, Education: B.A. Music Composition, Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois), drums, percussion, saxes, clarinet, vocals; Tatsuya Yoshida, vocals.
Waiter formed Sound Improvisation Collective with Bill Pisarri, 1991; Walter, Russell and, Organ formed the Flying Luttenbachers, 1991; Vandermark joined group, 1992; 546 Seconds of Noise released, July 1992; Bishop joined group, March 1993; Dylan Posa joined group, May 1993; Vandermark left band, April 1994; Walter dissolved band, August 1994; Walter launched solo Luttenbachers, October 1994; Falzone and Pisarri joined band, May 1995; Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers and Gods of Chaos recorded, 1996; Flying Luttenbachers European tour, January-February 1998; Walter dissolved band once again, March 1998; performed with various Luttenbacher line-up loosely grouped around Colligan and Johnson, 1998; Lonberg-Holm joined group, 2000.
Addresses: Home —Weasel Walter, Chicago, Illinois; e-mail:[email protected] Record company —ugEX-PLODE Records, P.O. Box 82, Chicago, IL 60690-0082; Skin Graft Records, P.O. Box 257546, Chicago, IL, 60625, website: http://www.skingraftrecords.com. Website —Official Luttenbachers website: http://www.ripco.net/-nailhead.
The group rehearsed together regularly during the first half of 1992. They held their only public performance at WNUR, the Northwestern University student radio station, a show that was saved for posterity on Live At WNUR 2-6-92, an album released on ugEXPLODE, the label Walter founded around that time. The record presents a manic free jazz performance, with Russell and Organ dueling on sax, and Walter caterwauling on drums, chopsticks and smashing jars.
Unfortunately, as 1992 progressed, Russell was devoting increasingly more time to other projects. The situation came to a head when a new label, Quinnah Records, expressed interest in doing a Luttenbacher 7 inch. In early July 1992, just days before the recording session was to take place, Russell told Walter, in so many words, that he wasn’t interested in doing the record. Unwilling to let the opportunity to record pass, Walter phoned Ken Vandermark, a musician he had met earlier that spring at an Anthony Braxton workshop. With Vandermark in the line-up, the Luttenbachers cut 546 Seconds of Noise —without the benefit of a single full group rehearsal. The record presented a new Luttenbacher sound. The Russell ensemble had played music that was clearly free jazz. With Vandermark on board, the band’s music was more primitive, beat-driven, even danceable. It was the birth of punk jazz.
By the end of the summer of 1992, the Flying Luttenbachers were playing regularly in Chicago clubs. According to Walter, however, the musical chemistry between the players was fragile. “Ken and Chad would often butt heads musically in the improvisations,” Walter wrote on the Luttenbacher website, “trying nervously to accommodate each other’s respective level of ability, while trying to maintain the high energy level set by Weasel’s merciless—and sometimes numbing—bashing.” At the same time, Vandermark, who was going through a difficult time in his career, had doubts about the direction Walter and the group were following. They continued to rehearse and perform, however, and the group’s recordings showed little evidence that these problems affected the Luttenbachers’ performances.
By the end of 1992, however, Walter was becoming dissatisfied with the limitations of the Luttenbachers’ sax-sax-drums line-up and the musical cul-de-sac he felt they had entered. He wanted the band to continue to forge ahead into new, unexplored territory. The answer, he believed, might be adding a new member, perhaps a bass or cello. In February of 1993, after the band recorded the EP 1389 Seconds of Noise, it auditioned Jeb Bishop. His presence gave the Luttenbachers the extra dimension Walter was looking for. “Bishop’s sympathetic bass playing helped buffer the horn players mutual differences,” Walter wrote, “and made it possible for the improvisation to gain new depth.”
By the time spring 1993 rolled around, Vandermark had become active in a plethora of musical activities in Chicago that conflicted with his commitments to the Luttenbachers. To ensure that the band would always have a full performing complement, Walter invited guitarist Dylan Posa to join. Posa, who had auditioned unsuccessfully to become the band’s bassist, was interested in the modern and avant garde classical repertoire, and added a whole new factor to the Luttenbacher mix. The guitar and bass created a sonic assault of orchestral proportions. Each instrument provided interesting new textural backgrounds and a heightened level of interplay in improvisations. While it was just a unrelenting as earlier Luttenbacher incarnations, the new line-up was in many ways the band’s most accessible.
The Flying Luttenbachers were in the vanguard of the Chicago No Wave and the improvised music scenes, both of which were in full swing in 1993. Walter was very active himself: he was playing in the group Ectomorph with Vandermark, Bishop and Kevin Drumm, in the Rev Trio with Bishop and saxist Joe Vajarsky, and on top of that he was running a weekly series, the Improvised Music Workshop. In October, the band went into the studio to cut an LP, Constructive Destruction.
Ken Vandermark, in the meantime, was playing in at least seven other ongoing musical projects. In April of 1994 the inevitable occurred: He announced he was leaving the Luttenbachers. In May, he played on one last record with the group, the LP Destroy All Music, half of which was recorded live in the studio, the rest comprised of tapes made on various occasions. In the summer, the Flying Luttenbachers set off on an East Coast tour. Their performances made Walter act on his own dissatisfaction with the group. On the way home he announced that he would not be playing with that line-up any longer. It was time to move on. “He was seeking to create an aggressive, merciless ensemble,” Walter later wrote of himself, “that unsympathetically synthesized the more extreme and nihilistic characteristics of free jazz and punk.”
Walter had given up his band but he wasn’t ready to give up the Flying Luttenbachers. He was already giving thought to a new collection of musicians that would include Bishop, Joe Vajarsky and reedist Michael Colligan. Events were moving faster than he could. Before he was able to get a band together, he was asked to contribute some Luttenbacher material to various 7 inches. In less than two months in late 1994, completely on his own, he recorded three new tracks, “Logic Negation System,” “Modulation Decay Unit,” and “Deception,” all of which appear on the anthology Retrospektiw III. The new work was harsher, with a threatening electronic-industrial edge absent from earlier Luttenbacher work. In winter 1995, with the aid of a Walkman, Walter began performing as a solo Flying Luttenbacher. Preparing the tapes to accompany each show consumed a great deal of time, however, and by May he had reached a scheduling impasse. His back against the wall, he called two old friends, Chuck Falzone and Bill Pisarri, and asked them to join the band.
Guitarist Falzone was Walter’s childhood friend from Rockford, where they had stormed together through a series of bands, in and out of school. Pisarri, Walter’s main collaborator in the Sound Improvisation Collective, was an artist, not a trained musician. He was playing gigs only days after he obtained his first bass guitar. He didn’t so much play bass in any traditional sense, as in play with the bass, but instead scratched and pounded the strings to coax out a variety of feedback and other sounds. This latest version of the Luttenbachers was also the most democratic. Unlike the other bands, for whom Walter had done virtually all the composing and arranging, both Falzone and Pisarri contributed music. The music was elemental and darker than ever, a sort of ambient music from Hell, hinted at by the pentagram displayed at the Luttenbacher concerts of the time and the 666 that graced their T-shirts. The band recorded two albums in 1996, The Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers and Gods of Chaos. The latter was the Flying Luttenbachers’ destruction myth, the musical story of the destruction of humankind which for the Luttenbachers end, not ironically, in total silence.
The band toured Europe in early 1998. When they returned to Chicago, Walter’s creative impatience rose to the surface once again. The music was no longer moving forward, and he dissolved the band. He put together various temporary line-ups in early 1998, with reed player Michael Colligan and bassist Kurt Johnson at their core. A high point came in the summer when cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Tatsuya Yoshida of the Ruins joined for a performance of “De Futura,” a 20-minute piece by Magma, a band for which Walter has tremendous admiration. By the time the Luttenbachers released their next album in June of 1999, the group had settled around Colligan and Johnson. The record, provocatively titled “… The Truth is A F***ing Lie…” marked a return to the complexities of a more all-out free jazz sound. But the music was denser than earlier Luttenbacherfree jazz, even modemist sound in gattimes, and held together by Johnson’s bass guitar. In early 2000, Lonberg-Holm joined on a regular basis. His experience in a wide range of jazz and pop bands brought the Luttenbachers to a new level of complexity as they were preparing their next record, tentatively titled Alptraum, German for “nightmare.” Alptraum promised to be the most uncompromising, demanding music the Flying Luttenbachers have ever released.
Live at WNUR 2-6-92, ugEXPLODE Records, 1992; reissued on Coat-tail/ugEXPLODE, 1996.
546 Seconds of Noise, (EP), Quinnah/ugEXPLODE, 1992; included on Retrospektiw III.
1389 Seconds of Noise, (EP), Quinnah/ugEXPLODE, 1993; included on Retrospektiw III.
Constructive Destruction, (LP), Quinnah/ugEXPLODE, 1994; reissued on (Quinnah/ugEXPLODE), 1996.
Destroy All Music, (LP), ugEXPLODE, 1995.
Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers, (LP/CD), Skin Graft/ugEXPLODE, 1996.
Live at the Middle East Cafe, Bourgeois Chimp, 1996.
Gods of Chaos, ugEXPLODE/Skin Graft, 1997.
Retrospektiw III, ugEXPLODE/Quinnah, 1998.
“… The Truth is A F***ing Lie…,” ugEXPLODE/Skin Graft, 1999.
Carbon 14, February 1998.
Destroy Amerikkka, # 2.
Earshot Online Magazine, Winter 1997.
Mole # 11, Summer 1998.
Mutiny # 7.
Skug Magazine #34, Spring 1998.
Trust Magazine #69, Spring 1998.
U.S. Rocker, March 1998.
Flying Luttenbachers website, http://pages.ripco.net/~nail-head/ (April 2000).
Additional information was provided by Weasel Walter.
—Gerald E. Brennan
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