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A Lazarus Taxon (Audio Version)

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Album Review

Four discs of dispatches from what the New York Times dubbed "the friendlier end of the avant-garde," the three-CD/one-DVD set A Lazarus Taxon is an embarrassment of riches for fans, either of Tortoise specifically or post-rock in general. In the Chicago of 1993, two rhythm-section members deciding to hire themselves out as the indie version of Sly & Robbie had to be considered utterly foolish. But to reflect on ten years of Tortoise is to see the group not as the odd American instrumental group of the post-punk era not influenced by surf or hardcore, but as the logical meeting point of two of the city's prime musical forays: indie rock and avant-garde jazz. Early on, Krautrock and dub appeared to be the two bodies of musical knowledge the group drew on most often; "Gamera," a 12-minute epic from an early EP on Stereolab's Duophonic label, nails a looser, more sincere version of the near-human robotics of Can and Neu!. And from the beginning, John McEntire had begun cementing Tortoise's ties to mid-'90s electronica with his productions, a canny synthesis of labcoat electronics and spacious dub (to say nothing of the group's dabbling, on remix EPs, with enthusiasts such as Oval, Autechre, Luke Vibert, and Nobukazu Takemura). By the beginning of the new millennium, with a bona fide jazz guitarist (Jeff Parker) as a full member of the group, Tortoise could not only quote but wrestle with all manner of instrumental forms; their contribution to a 1999 Red Hot compilation saw them performing a late Duke Ellington composition ("Didjeridoo") as though it had appeared on Miles Davis' Get Up with It or Live at the Fillmore. A Lazarus Taxon functions as an addendum to the band's standard discography, grabbing rare tracks from a wealth of sources, including compilations, benefit albums, tour singles, remix singles, and the continually fan-frustrating import editions. As well, one disc is given over to the early remix album Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters, definitely a boon for fans (although the disc ends at a mere 37 minutes). The DVD portion balances video clips by innovative filmmakers with live footage of Tortoise's most intriguing performances, including seven songs from a 1996 performance shoot by Chris Mills and two from a jazz festival with Rob Mazurek and AACM's Fred Anderson. Those who haven't dug this deep before will discover that Tortoise were a band whose rare material rivalled the popular in quality.

Biography

Formed: 1990 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Tortoise revolutionized American indie rock in the mid-'90s by playing down tried-and-true punk and rock & roll influences, emphasizing instead the incorporation of a variety of left-field music genres from the past 20 years, including Krautrock, dub, avant-garde jazz, classical minimalism, ambient and space music, film music, and British electronica. At odds as well with the shambling framework of alternative rock's normal song structure, the group — as large as a septet, with at times...
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