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A "Wild Combination" of Genres

Monday, May 12, 2008 - 04:42 PM

arthur_russell.jpgIn 1983, just a year after starting the “New Sounds” series here at WNYC, I started playing a couple of LPs by a composer named Arthur Russell. “Tower of Meaning” was a favorite – a series of majestic, slowly-unfolding, moody instrumentals by a guy I’d never heard of, but whose ensemble was full of familiar names from the “downtown” Manhattan scene. Then back home I’d often try to pull in the hard-to-get signal of Long Island’s WLIR. Their rotation of dance-y rock songs included “Tell You Today” by the group Loose Joints, a catchy number that I quite liked.

When I learned that Loose Joints was actually the same Arthur Russell, I was mightily impressed. Neither side of his music made him a “star.” But here we are, 16 years after his death at the age of 40, and people are still talking about him, and the surprising reach that his music has had. Maybe his kind of wild eclecticism is a poor career move; but in his case it resulted in a fascinating, if all too brief, career.

Click here to listen to a Soundcheck interview with Matt Wolf, director of 'Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell,' and New Yorker pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones.

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