Curlew | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


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Saxophonist George Cartwright, a member of New York's stylistically broad Lower East Side scene, formed Curlew in 1979; over two decades later he's the group's only original member. Although a veritable who's who of the downtown scene (including Fred Frith, Anton Fier, Pippin Barnett, Rick Brown, Ann Rupel, and Bill Laswell) has passed through the group, until recently its basic sound hadn't changed much. On 1985's excellent North America, the group's second album (reissued last month by Cuneiform Records with some previously unreleased live material), Curlew reconciled punkish experimentation, free jazz, off-kilter funk, and R & B melodies. The combination of concise textural solos and spindly dance grooves was something new at the time, and though it's no longer uncommon, this pioneering synthesis still sounds fresh today. The band's eighth album, Meet the Curlews (also on Cuneiform), has yet another new lineup, but this time the sound has changed along with the personnel. Joining Cartwright (who now lives in Minneapolis) and longtime guitarist Davey Williams are bassist Fred Chalenor (Tone Dogs), drummer Bruce Golden, and jazz pianist Chris Parker. In contrast to the band's previous, more limber percussionists, Golden takes a decidedly foursquare approach to rhythm, creating a weird tension with Parker--who avoids the sort of neatly interlocking parts previously laid down by keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, cellist Tom Cora, or guitarist Chris Cochrane, favoring expansive, harmonically detailed clusters that trickle and gush over Curlew's tunes. The approach gives Curlew a decidedly prog flavor, and it makes room for more extended soloing, which sometimes saps the group's springy energy. For this rare tour yet another lineup change has occurred, with guitarist Dean Granros subbing for Williams. Sunday, October 6, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lisa Elias.

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