The Flying Luttenbachers are more of an idea than a band. Just as Robert Fripp has steered King Crimson through countless lineups and styles during the past 50 years, Luttenbachers drummer, composer and sole consistent member Weasel Walter rebooted his group constantly during its initial 1991–2007 run, typically reemerging each time with a whole new sound and set of collaborators.
Depending on when you were tuning in to the project — whose odd moniker came from Harold Luttenbacher, the birth name of original horn player Hal Russell— you might have heard No Wave–influenced punk-jazz, hyper-detailed metallic prog or a warped, DIY take on 20th-century classical.
“Once the ball got rolling with the band in the Nineties,” Walter told saxophonist and sometime collaborator Chris Pitsiokos during a fascinating three-hour radio profile in 2014, “I felt like it had this pseudo-mythological thrust and I felt like I was a lunatic and I felt like I was a warrior and that this was my band of warriors and that we had to go on these different sort of like assaults to prove our points.”
In 2017, after a decade-long break during which he focused on free improv and avant-garde rock projects like Cellular Chaos and Behold… the Arctopus, Walter reactivated the Luttenbachers for a week’s worth of shows in France. Last year brought yet another new lineup, with saxophonist Matt Nelson, guitarist Brandon Seabrook and bassist Tim Dahl. This quartet made its recorded debut in January with a reworking of an old Luttenbachers track, slated for an upcoming compilation from Skin Graft Records, which released several of the band’s Nineties albums. (Full disclosure: A band I play in also appears on the compilation and will release an album via Skin Graft.) This week, the current group is unveiling Shattered Dimension, an album of all-new music and the first Flying Luttenbachers LP in 12 years.
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Ahead of the record’s Friday release on Walter’s ugEXPLODE Records, you can now stream the third track, “Epitaph,” here:
After a doomy overture, the quartet locks into a stabbing, repetitive riff, which moves into an uptempo section that sounds like a death-metal band covering a symphonic theme. From there, tight composed passages alternate with noisy solos and chaotic ensemble sections. Double-tracking adds an added layer of frenetic weirdness, as each player seems to duet with himself. Like the album as a whole, “Epitaph” feels less like the next logical step after the prior Luttenbachers LP, 2007’s Incarceration by Abstraction, than a summation of all their various approach to date.
In an e-mail exchange, Walter elaborated on the piece’s structure and approach:
“Compositionally I have continually run the gamut between technical overload and mindless idiocy, depending on what I think I need to do at the moment to keep myself interested,” he writes. “‘Epitaph’ isn’t completely dumb, but I hope it’s an intelligent use of very simple materials, mainly the insistent three note riff that makes up the seedy underbelly of this thing.
“I like to play old grindcore blast beats, so I threw in a long majestic riff in there to break it up, and then there’s a series of solos on top to allow the band members their individual psychoses to emerge. It’s a monolithic, morose chunk of dread and insanity, so I suppose ‘Epitaph’ is a fitting title, right?
“We did two takes in the studio — we record everything live, as quickly as possible, always — and I liked both takes equally, so I put one take in each speaker,” he continues. “It’s, you know, twice as heavy that way, literally. 1 + 1 really equals 2 in this case. It is suitably dense as a result. The record lives forever, so I believe anything goes to make the vision sound the way it needs to.”
Walter also shared some further thoughts about the group’s rebirth in a brief Q&A.
In the later years of the first Luttenbachers run, you were heading in a hyper-complex direction, whereas this record as a whole is much rawer and more minimal — closer to the band’s early-to-mid-Nineties phase. How did the sound of this new incarnation develop?
When I was toying with reforming the band, I knew it had to be for the right reasons. The music, number one, had to be worthy of the name. To do this, and be a working unit, I needed the right people. I have worked with these guys in various groupings extensively, as far back as a decade, so they all understand my unreasonable musical and personal demands tacitly.
There was no conscious intent to revisit past modes of Luttenbachers musicmaking, but when we put this together, I knew I wanted to do a lot of improvising, particularly in a sort of post–Ornette Coleman Prime Time sort of harmolodic vein, so there’s a ton of that on the record.
There are a lot of practical limitations to what we can do as a working class avant-garde unit with limited resources in the ever-expensive, über-yuppified current New York City, so, this band is based more on strong musical personalities, rather than the need to waste tons of time rehearsing complex music and not necessarily getting a better or more effective end result. Honestly, I don’t think our current audience has the goddamn leisure time to sit around and endlessly ponder my magnificent, baroque chamber abstractions — times are tough and money is a bitch, so we’re firing from the gut right now, not the cerebellum. It’s not to say that we won’t do more technically complex stuff (there are some things like this which will show up on the next record), but the current M.O. is a good nexus for us and it was arrived at naturally. I created frameworks for the players to do their things and be themselves. We’re all complicated, noisy, aggressive weirdos, obviously.
What drew you to each of these players for this new version of the band? Was the whole album written with Matt, Brandon and Tim in mind?
We’re all on a page in terms of our tastes, intent, skills, aspirations and anger, so it kind of made sense for us to do this together. The music didn’t really have them personally in mind per se, however they can play anything and the music allows a lot of space for them to express themselves, so it’s more about freedom than control right now. After the written stuff is executed, anything goes! As the group further finds its voice, the music will incorporate that naturally. The spirit of the Flying Luttenbachers is to push music to extremes on every level, and these guys do it easily.