James Chance has long been regarded as the ultimate "insider legend." In other words, everyone who heard him recognized his genius and appreciated the sheer audacity of his music. Problem's been, not that many people heard of him. As part of New York's abrasive "No Wave" movement of the late '70s (a musical assault that saw the already-avant stylings of the downtown rock scene transmogrified into some truly remarkable art-punk noise), Chance was already operating in an insular environment that wasn't likely to be noticed by the mainstream. And that's probably appropriate. His music -- though certainly rooted in funk, jazz and even disco -- was dance music for junkies, and that don't play in Peoria. But for the relatively few folks who did manage to hear his albums like "Buy the Contortions," it was a true revelation, and that listener typically became a rabid fan. (Henry Rollins and Rick Rubin founded Infinite Zero to reissue Chance's records. It was those reissues that established the James Chance legend at my house. So I guess Henry Rollins did do something cool after Black Flag.) Working under several different guises, Chance continually rejiggered his approach in an attempt to befuddle an increasingly jaded audience: James Chance and the Contortions produced spazzy, free-jazz funk; James White and the Blacks dished up four-on-the-floor smack disco; James White's Flaming Demonics did both, instrumentally. Strutting around Manhattan like the coolest of the cats, he fully embraced the idea that he was an entertainer first and an artist second. Thus, any performance by any of his groups was always uptempo, interactive and occasionally abusive. Though this wonderful four-disc box-set compilation of all seven of Chance's albums (plus some unreleased sessions) may establish the insider legend among a new generation of hipsters, it's doubtful that it will go any further toward earning it a place in the rock & roll canon. Chance and his music are too individualistic, too mind-bendingly raw and too inscrutable. However, the very fact that his reputation has maintained itself for over 20 years should tell you that whatever accolades he gets, he deserves.
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