Live in Berlin

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Curlew may not have been the earliest of the hybrid jazz fusion bands, but from the evidence of this CD, they might be one of the best. When they recorded this live date, primarily at the Quasimodo Club in Berlin, saxophonist/leader George Cartwright, cellist Tom Cora and drummer Pippin Barnett had been playing together for close to ten years. Complemented by Davey Williams on guitar and Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, this was one loose, confident ensemble. At times, when the group is really cooking, there is perhaps a slight resemblance to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but the emphasis is less on chops and more on textures, and Curlew draws much more heavily than Mahavishnu on both funk and avant-garde jazz sources. Swaggering bar-band riffs mutate into esoteric twitterings and scrapings; rock-solid rhythms disintegrate right before your ears -- and then everything comes back together again, miraculously reassembled and refreshed. It's an affectionate but powerful deconstruction and extension of down-home funk, without the self-conscious cuteness that highbrow intellectuals often bring to popular art forms. Curlew manages to be in the pocket and outside at the same time, which is a pretty darn good trick, and even though the applause is not miked on this CD until the end of the last piece, the excitement of the live performance comes through loud and clear.

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