First things first and just to make sure no one is disappointed: Gussie documents Curlew playing free improvisation -- and only free improvisation. This limited-edition LP contains none of that tight avant-jazz riffing any fan of the band is used to. That being said, anyone who has witnessed George Cartwright's group in the flesh knows that free improv is part of their modus operandi. Gussie was recorded live at Gus Lucky's Gallery in Minneapolis on July 10, 2001. It consists of four collective improvisations. Sound quality is disappointing, especially considering the very in-your-face production of the group's classic albums. The set seems to have been recorded with one stereo microphone; it has been mastered at a very low level and is marred by tape hiss. Chris Parker's piano sounds very far away, while Cartwright's sax is not always as near as one could wish for. The title track sets the mood right from the start: no rhythm, no melody, no structure. Once the shock subsides, the intricacy of the playing and the inspiration of the musicians can percolate. The best piece on side one is "Perfectly Intact," a sweet-and-sour affair dominated by Davey Williams' tortured guitar. Side two consists of a single 19-minute improvisation, "Lonesome Curve." It begins marvelously with Williams and bassist Fred Chalenor weaving hiccuping syncopations over Parker's impersonation of Liszt falling under the spell of Cecil Taylor. Cartwright comes in only halfway through, trying to nudge the piece toward jazzier realms, but Williams gets angry and the music gains a harder edge for the finale. The performance is honest, but the bad, bootleg-like sound quality will probably prevent you from listening to this LP regularly. For the collector only.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by François Couture