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CURLEW – CBGB – NYC – 1987/ TAKTLOS FESTIVAL, BERN, SWITZERLAND (CUNEIFORM, 2023)

These excellent live recordings are to be released on Cuneiform Records on 27th October and constitute a recommended starting point for the initiate and a Godsend for fans eager for more Curlew music.


The line-up is founder George Cartwright on saxes, Tom Cora on cello, Davey Williams on guitar and Pippin Barnett on drums (also there since the start of their recording career), Wayne Horitz on keys and keyboard bass.

A quick discography first:

“Curlew” (1981) – 2 x CD live at CBGBs (1980); “North America” (1986) with guest cornet and violin; “Live in Berlin” (1986); “Bee” (1987); “The Knitting Factory” (1992), a limited edition cassette; “A Beautiful Western Saddle” (1993) with vocalist Amy Denio; “Paradise” (1996), “Fabulous Drop (1998); “Gussie” (2003 – live 2001); “Mercury” (2003); “Meet the Curlews” (2003); “CBGBs, New York, 1987” (2022); “Live at the Phantasmagoria and WFMU” (2022).


This particular set starts with an 11-minute version of ‘Ray’ (The first studio version was 4:42!), but it is none the worse for the extension: boundary blurring music with a sense of humour in a potent free jazz-rock concoction with the kitchen sink thrown in – a Hawaiian/ Caribbean lilt mixed with Ellingtonia, countrified cello, crazy angular guitars, and some dissonance of course. Listening to Curlew’s music can be like walking through a back alley then into the mainstream as recognisable melodies float in. One of Curlew’s pieces is called ‘The March of Ornette went to Miles’ House and They Didn’t Get Along’ just about tells you where saxophonist George Armstrong, one of Jazz’s unsung heroes is at. (Ornette’s son Denardo played drums on their first album).


Curlew is also perfectly capable of getting into a funky groove as on the 10 minutes of ‘Moonlake’ and ‘First Bite’. ‘Agitar/ The Victim’ has an urgency, like King Crimson on steroids, with stellar guitar and sax work and stirring drumming. They also pull marvellous melodies out like rabbits out of a hat on pieces like ‘Kissing Goodbye’ – yes, this group is visceral as well as cerebral!


I could wax eloquent for longer, but suffice to say that, in terms of Jazz-rock music Curlew is not to be missed. Fred Frith was once a member so I guess fans of Henry Cow, Univers Zero and similar groundbreaking bands will want sample a slice of this. There should also be a wide appeal to fans of more conventional jazz music ‘One Fried Egg’ attests.


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