Meet the Curlews!

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Four years after the group's last release, Fabulous Drop, this new edition of Curlew retains only leader and saxophonist George Cartwright and guitarist Davey Williams. Pianist Chris Parker has replaced second guitarist Chris Cochrane -- the first regular use of keyboards in a Curlew group since pianist Wayne Horvitz was a bandmember, briefly, back in 1986. Having a piano in the group (especially an acoustic piano) represents a fairly substantial change in Curlew's focus and direction. It pushes the music into a more mainstream jazz configuration, rather than the sometimes chaotic electric funk of the earlier groups. Williams still assaults musical convention occasionally on this CD, with bursts of machine metal shredding and howling but, collectively, the band seems headed in another direction. Cartwright himself is in a more thoughtful mood, playing less overall and generating only a comfortable amount of heat. In past performances, he has demonstrated a willingness (even eagerness) to duke it out with guitarists Cochrane and Williams, but on Meet the Curlews he often adopts a broad and breathy tone that owes only a little to Coltrane and Albert Ayler, and much more to jazz traditionalists such as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, especially on ballads such as "Sensible Shoes/Proper Fit." The pianist's own composition, "Cold Ride," shows a decided McCoy Tyner influence and encourages Cartwright's most vigorous modal blowing in the manner of Coltrane, but pieces such as "HATED" and the two versions of "Late December" (the latter for solo piano) almost qualify as chamber jazz, and could have come from the ECM label catalog -- not something that could have been said about any previous Curlew composition or release. Perhaps as a consequence of the new band members (not just Parker on piano, but a new bassist and drummer as well), this Curlew group doesn't always project a distinct collective sound, and the exploration of various styles and modes (gospel, funk, chamber, modal, mainstream post-bop) sometimes comes across as slightly unfocused. Nonetheless, there is some very good music on this CD, and it is to be hoped that Cartwright can keep the group together long enough for some further seasoning and a second recording in a year or two.

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