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! A complete 64 minute set 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