In person, James White paints a convincing portrait of a soul in torment. While his band grinds and groans like damned spirits making whoopee, White's body convulses, his face contorts, his voice and sax howl. The performance is catharsis, with the music providing an apt prop, but most of its power comes from White's presence and energy.

On his latest recording, "Sax Maniac," White has adopted a sharply different tack from his on-stage shtik. The atmosphere is altogether lighter and more humorous. Saucy background singers wax mock-ecstatic about his "saxual technique" while he cracks an unending stream of hokey puns, most of them on a par with the "your stocks are all in bond-age" line from "Money to Burn."

The biggest joke is played on the audience. White guessed early on that most casual listeners would have difficulty distinguishing between the finely wrought atonalities of a gifted jazz improviser and the simple noisemaking of a rank amateur. On "Sax Maniac," he has manipulated musical contexts to blur the dividing line to the point of oblivion. One wonders, though, who gets the last laugh. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM JAMES WHITE -- Sax Maniac (Animal APE 6002). THE SHOW JAMES WHITE, Friday at 10 and midnight at the Wax Museum.