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1st Album + Live at CBGB 1980 by Curlew

With previously unreleased live tracks culled from 1980 performances at the legendary New York City venue "CBGB's, and the band's first album complete with bonus cuts, we now take a sojourn back in time to the infancy of the New York "downtown scene." And while saxophonist/composer John Zorn and others have seemingly kept the torch lit over the years, Curlew looms as one of the more important exponents of the scene's radical, homogeneous blend of avant-garde jazz, jazz-rock and free-jazz rock among other genre-cutting variations.

Led by Mississippi reared saxophonist George Cartwright, the ensemble was constructed upon gall, invention, and wily musical factors that were embedded into asymmetrical parts, structure and artistic freedom of expression. On disc one, which is the reissue of its debut 1981 self-titled album, we are treated to the unit's signature sounds, designed upon tumbling pulses and torrid improv expeditions. Buoyant, frisky and rebel-rousing, Cartwright often steers the charge with his fervid phrasings amid the late, great cellist Tom Cora's buzzing staccato movements and free-form excursions. Yet one of the differentiators pertain to the musicians insightful way of injecting memorable hooks into the grand schema.

On "Better Thumbs," guitar hero Nicky Skopelitis acts as a lightning rod via his seething, super-speed riffs atop bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Bill Bacon's crash/burn like underpinnings. Here, the group marches forth with maddening intensity. Although a major accelerator is founded upon the quartet's proclamations of musical joy as they combine frisky breakouts with playful dialogues while occasionally shifting gears on a nanosecond's notice. To paraphrase the movie critics out there, "it's wildly entertaining."

Their quirky, off-kilter musings come to fruition on "Intro/The March," which represents one of many previously unreleased bonus tracks, and combines elements of the Brit free-jazz movement with chatty, avant rock. As all thirteen works on disc-two were never before issued on album or CD. Consequently, drummer Denardo Coleman replaces Bacon on all tracks. And the drummer's famous father Ornette, shines as an influence with the band's punchy, harmolodic choruses on the frothy composition titled "Red Channels."

The music is brazen, cutting-edge and triumphantly withstands the passing of time. In my book, this and subsequent Curlew albums showcase the epitome of the revolutionary proclivities set forth during the '80s and beyond. It may have started in New York City but quickly festered to other regions here and abroad. Regardless, the members of Curlew made optimum use of their combined energies to dish out the goods with a patented mode of execution that set them apart from their peers, to include various personnel changes along the way. (Essential listening...)

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Curlew
  • CD Title: 1st Album + Live at CBGB 1980
  • Genre: Progressive
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Downtown Music Gallery
  • Rating: Five Stars
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