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Album Review

Jazz-rock fusion has a bad reputation, and it should; some of the most embarrassing albums of the 1960s and '70s were made under the fusion flag, and the jazz world never fully recovered from the impact made by scores of synthesizer-wielding, funk-faking, chops-drunk fusioneers and their usually mediocre albums. But all that is not to say that a real, vital fusion of jazz and rock is impossible, and, in fact, a number of artists have shown that the two styles really can combine to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Curlew is a band that continues, almost 25 years into the game, to demonstrate just that fact. Led by saxophonist and composer George Cartwright, a mainstay of New York's downtown scene who has worked with everyone from Fred Frith and Bill Laswell to Wayne Horvitz and cellist Tom Cora, Curlew deals in a raw, muscular brand of avant-fusion that retains all the gritty energy of punk rock and marries it to the free-spirited complexity of avant-garde jazz and the skronky abandon of downtown experimentalism. The center doesn't always hold, of course, and there are some disappointing moments on Mercury; "Call," for example, loses shape eventually and stops being very interesting about halfway through. But the vaguely martial, mid-tempo strut of "Late Date" gives way beautifully to the almost ethereal weirdness of "There Is," and the subtly complex rhythmic shifts and bop-flavored melody of "Ludlow" are also impressive. Best of all, perhaps, is the gently, lovely slide-guitar solo that leads into the sturdy groove of "Song of New" at the end of the program. Highly recommended.


Formed: 1979

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Curlew were formed in 1979 by George Cartwright, who has served as the group's leader, saxophonist, and main composer for nearly three decades. Although Curlew have been viewed as pioneers of New York City's so-called "downtown scene," Cartwright was born in Mississippi and has consistently brought a roadhouse R&B swagger -- not to mention the influence of early hero Ornette Coleman -- to the band's sound. Throughout the '80s and '90s, Curlew served as something of an incubator and showcase for N.Y.C....
Full Bio
Mercury, Curlew
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  • $8.91
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Rock
  • Released: Sep 16, 2003

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