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Live at CBGB 1980

by Curlew

  • Compact Disc (CD) + Digital Album

    [upc 808713070422]
    Disc One: The legendary first [self-titled] album by Curlew, initally released by Landslide on LP in 1981 and out-of-print ever since, with the original lineup of saxophonist/composer/leader George Cartwright, Tom Cora on cello and devices, Nicky Skopelitis on guitar, Bill Laswell on bass, and Bill Bacon on drums. This incredible record, originally released by Landslide in the U.S. and U.K., has never before been released on CD anywhere! Bonus material on this disc includes six more cuts from one of their earliest live gigs at CBGB on February 6th 1980, previously unreleased in any format! [two other tracks from this gig are included as part ot the original album sequence]
    Disc Two: Previously unreleased in any format! Two complete 30+ minute sets from CBGB on October 1st 1980, with almost the same lineup, except Denardo Coleman [from Ornette's Prime Time, and Jayne Cortez' Firespitters] is on drums!
    "IN THE NEW YORK CITY OF THE LATE SEVENTIES, intersecting communities of musician/composer/improvisors fomented a new cycle of unprecedented creativity, later known under the aegis of 'Downtown Music', and which nowadays, due to its continuing re-inventions and innovations, is enjoined by an international legion of creative musicians with a global audience.
    The late '70s were a dour time for new jazz. Sure, you could hear what passed for it on the radio, but by then creative Jazz-Rock had become Fusion, descending into - perhaps only partially via record company manipulation - watered-down groove instrumentals with flashy jazz-inflected riffs. Art-Rock, somewhat of a cross-Atlantic cousin also started in the late '60s, similarly had its creative death-knell after only a five year period, becoming the bloated artistically bankrupt arena phenomenon known as "Progressive" rock.
    The real jazz was mostly coming through on small independent labels: a new breed of strong player/composers were beginning to be heard from who took their cues primarily from the explorers of the previous decade - Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Art Ensemble Of Chicago, late-period John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor. These New-Jazz comers included Henry Threadgill, David Murray, Lawrence 'Butch' Morris, Wadada Leo Smith, Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, and James 'Blood' Ulmer, and they could be heard in the once-healthy loft-jazz scene of mid-'70s NYC.
    At the same time, a few truly creative early progenitors of the old Art-Rock scene from abroad - including Fred Frith, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Daevid Allen - had turned their backs on the ethos they initiated, and moved to NYC to collide/collaborate in what they perceived as much more fertile ground, partially revolving around the NY New Wave/No Wave punk-dance scene.
    Also about this time, a number of musically-disparate transplants to New York took up residence in the Lower East Side, chiefly Elliott Sharp, Wayne Horvitz, Toshinori Kondo, John Zorn (okay, he only moved from Queens!), Tom Cora, (Mark) Kramer, Tim Berne, Eugene Chadbourne, Bill Laswell, and George Cartwright. For each - if their great works together and separately is the measure - were of a like mind: to reject the tired and shallow, and to create new methods of interaction and composing that in time was to become the passing of the torch from the previous composer-based (Cage, Riley, Glass, Young, Reich,..) Downtown Music scene, but this time with emphasis on the improvising player as an equal party to the music - the new New Music scene.
    George Cartwright formed Curlew in 1979, taking as his starting point bits of all the aforementioned sources - and more besides, mixed with a sly humor that is uniquely his - immediately attracting the brightest and best legends-to-be to his side. Bill Laswell paid his dues in R&B rhythm sections along the East Coast, first coming to prominence in New York Gong which debuted at Daevid Allen's ZU Festival, where George, Bill, Nicky, Fred and so many others first met. (Bill later transformed NYG into Material). Nicky Skopelitis was a shy but monstrously talented guitarist and oud player. Tom Cora had worked with Karl Berger, Eugene Chadbourne, and Andrea Centazzo, extending the language of cello. Bill Bacon was formerly of Flying Island, and a student of world percussion under Collin Walcott.
    Not only was George a great genius compositionally - I still remember my jaw hanging open 30 minutes after first listening to the this album! - his music was at once both new-jazz and new-art-rock, with virtuoso ensemble playing which discarded the unison crutch of fusion. His amazingly versatile reed work betrayed without imitation a wide ranging source of influences including Southern R&B, impressionistic minimalism, and Ornette's harmolodic approach. Says Mr. Cartwright, "the basic concept came from Ornette (and his recent electric albums): to be melodic, danceable, strong, clear and (more my idea) messy ... And I mean 'danceable' in a, uh, creative kind of way with toe-tapping as an integral part of [it], too. But, the ideas and inspiration came from everywhere. Not just Ornette."
    Over the years, Curlew has been for avant-jazz and new music (much as Mothers Of Invention or King Crimson were to rock) an incubator and/or showcase for extraordinary talent, including founding members Cora (Skeleton Crew, Third Person), Laswell (Material, Painkiller, Praxis), Skopelitis (Ekstasis), and later members Fred Frith (Henry Cow, Massacre), Wayne Horvitz (The President, Naked City, Zony Mash), Davey Williams (TransMuseq), Pippin Barnett (Orthotonics, Nimal), Ann Rupel (No Safety), Amy Denio (Tone Dogs), et al. Even Denardo Coleman - batterie for Prime Time, and Ornette's son - felt right at home!
    This group possesses all the hallmarks of the very best musical institutions, including: They sound like no one else. And, you can hear their unabated exuberance throughout - they had FUN! playing together. These outrageous recordings are where it all started." - Emanuel 'MannyLunch' Maris
    "Extra tracks are usually a good thing, but an entire extra disc (or more) of previously unknown material puts a reissue into another realm of discovery. That's the case with the fabulously unclassifiable Curlew, whose 1980 debut is extended with bonus tracks plus a live show of the period on First Album + Live at CBGB 1980. This quintet of misfits, led by saxophonist and main composer George Cartwright, also featured guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, innovative (and deeply missed) cellist Tom Cora, and electric bassist and scene maker Bill Laswell. Bill Bacon was the drummer on the first album, which combines studio material with live tracks taken from a performance at CBGBs. Disc one is filled up with more performances from that show, while the second previously unissued disc comes from later in the year, with Denardo Coleman taking over the drum chair and sounding solidly at home. Curlew always seemed to have trouble deciding what it was really about while the music churned and smoked, an attitude of genre-straddling that was part of their charm. In retrospect, it's not that hard to hear how Ornette Coleman's electric Prime Time gave Cartwright a starting place for his new-jazz/new-rock/ new-dance fusion sound. It may not be as danceable as Cartwright intended, but the propulsive rhythms and gutsy solos will have you moving one way or the other. Cartwright has kept the group together for decades now, with many personnel changes. This exemplary reissue shows you where it all began. Definitely recommended!" - Stuart Kremsky, The Journal
    "When looking back at the heydays of New York City's so-called "downtown scene," it seems surprising that Curlew aren't mentioned more frequently, but perhaps this tremendous two-disc set issued by the Downtown Music Gallery will help remedy that situation. Although downtown music of the '80s and '90s was always about erasing musical boundaries (among other things), Curlew might have erased musical boundaries too well; after all, it's never been too difficult to assign Sonic Youth to the "rock" box and Dave Douglas to "jazz" (John Zorn is one person who blew up the box from the get-go) for marketing purposes. But what about a band that combined elements of free jazz, avant rock, and interludes of textural improv with saxophonist/leader George Cartwright's Mississippi-bred R&B/funk sensibility and down-home friendly tunefulness? Where does that fit, exactly? Well, how about right in your ears. Bill Laswell is probably the most "famous" musician on Curlew's eponymous debut LP reissued here, and it's interesting to note that not only had he not fallen into his more well-known ambient dub persona at the time of this 1980 recording -- but the first Material album had not even been released, nor his first solo effort, Baselines. On tracks like the opening "Panther Burn" his slippery, rubbery bass is all over the place and far from deep and dubby. Laswell is more interested in playing in-your-face funk-jazz than in building up layers of "atmosphere" (although there is atmosphere of a different sort on the collective improv "But Get It," spacious but disturbed more than calming), and the same goes for guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, a future ongoing partner in Laswell's sonic universe who emerges as a fleet-fingered fusoid six-stringer here ("Bitter Thumbs"). Drummer Bill Bacon from Material alternately nails the groove and rolls and tumbles along, and cellist Tom Cora makes every effort to transport his instrument as far as possible from the world of "chamber music" -- his earthy and abrasive tone and jagged interjections are as wonderful on this disc as they ever would be (and his "Rudders" is a great Curlew tune).
    Then of course there is the leader, with his sax staking out territory somewhere between R&B, funk, harmolodics, and free jazz/improv, screaming with passion one moment and then rolling out a melody so insistently catchy and good-natured that you might wonder if downtown avant types were thrown into a conundrum at Curlew gigs: "Will we still be hip if somebody catches us dancing the Funky Chicken to this stuff?" And while Cartwright can wail with the best of them, he is more interested in a group sound than in hogging the solo spotlight, as he would continue to prove through numerous Curlew incarnations on Cuneiform albums up to and including 2003's Mercury.
    The DMG reissue of Curlew is nicely digitally remastered with a slew of unreleased live bonus tracks recorded at CBGB in February 1980, plus an entire second disc of previously unreleased live tracks also recorded at CBGB in October of that year and featuring none other than Denardo Coleman on drums. The second disc -- also digitally mastered -- presents two complete live sets (nearly all the tunes therefore appear twice) of often raucous and funked-up Curlew with fiery soloing by Cartwright, Cora, and Skopelitis over the skittering Laswell-Coleman rhythm section. With informative historical liner notes from DMG's Manny "Lunch" Maris and featuring the original album artwork from James Flournoy Holmes, Curlew 1st Album + Live at CBGB 1980 amply proves Curlew's status as a downtown band of historic proportions. A big thank you to DMG for helping to set the record straight." - Lindsey Planer, AMG

    DMG ARC 704

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Social Work 02:43
Panther Burn 05:51
Red Channels 03:39
Mink's Dream 02:47
Moon Lake 03:17
Sports 02:15




released March 10, 2014

George Cartwright - alto, tenor and soprano saxophones
Tom Cora - cello, indingti
Nicky Skopelitis - guitar
Bill Laswell - fender bass
Denardo Coleman - drum kit


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