Downtown crew have been around for quite some time despite various personnel changes over the years. Noted for being cerebral, daring and at times avant-garde, they frequently amaze audiences with their unique stylings. Leader and saxophonist George Cartwright produced Fabulous Drop under the fine Cuneiform label.
This follow-up to their rollicking 1996 release Paradise expands on the pulsing rhythms, free improv and to some degree, traces of older "avant Curlew" resurface. The proceedings begin with the Cartwright-penned tune "August." Cartwright opens with an articulately phrased Tranesque sax solo backed by swirling cymbals which develops into a funk / jazz backbeat. Crafty guitar statements by Chris Cochrane and Davey Willams lead to blistering crescendos. The odd-meter Cochrane tune "Not Innocent" is reminiscent of early Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band for its playfulness, complex rhythms and staggering guitar work. Cartwright's "Blood Meridian" is the third cut which features Cartwright's sax performing unison runs with guitarists Willams and Cochrane. Cartwright eventually rips into an intense free flowing sax solo backed by the angular twin guitarists Is it rock or jazz ?
Curlew is a tight knit unit which seemingly derives elements from jazz avant-garde and progressive rock (and traces of "chamberesque" were apparent in some of their older recordings when cellist Tom Cora was in the band). As a unit Curlew is focused and structured; however, it never ceases to surprise the listener with frequent forays into unusual motifs. Curlew treads difficult waters. Few bands are able to flirt with free form improv, jazz themes and progressive rock, but this is a finely tuned machine with a sparkling identity.
The fourth cut is a Davey Williams composition "Crazy Feet, Sensible Shoes." A hodgepodge of childlike sound effects segue into one of the wildest rockers heard in years. Traces of calypso along with Cartwright's fierce sax take you to the islands, evoking moods of celebration and at times mayhem. Cartwright and longtime band member Ann Rupel wrote the title cut: a Caribbean feel complete with a pleasing melody leads into some inventive guitar work from Cochrane and Williams. Bandleader Cartwright displays some monumental chops with an impossible Ayleresque sax solo, ending on a pensive note. Cartwright's "Argon" stirs thoughts of reggae-meets-avant-garde. Drummer Kenny Wolleson pushes and prods the band with huge press rolls, African rhythms while Willams and Cochrane come in for the attack with reckless abandon, as if they had just received their marching orders.
Ann Rupel's "Neither Baby" quiets things down a bit taking on the air of a slow journey of ships passing in the night. Cartwright's "Funny Fun" features some up-front drumming by Wolleson. which emerges into another odd-meter romp with Rupel's pulsing bass and the guitarists progressively stretching out. The CD ends with Cartwright's "Dog House on the Moon", another cheerful "island" scene which eventually turns into a free form explosive jazz-rocker. Guitars abound, Cartwright blows with furry, a fitting climax to a wonderful CD.
Fabulous Drop is highly recommended. Fans of John Zorn and the oft -mentioned inference to the NYC Downtown scene may be inclined to buy Curlew CDs as would progressive rock-jazz advocates. If you're looking for something different yet palatable try Fabulous Drop
Tracks:August; Not Innocent; Blood Meridian; Crazy Feet, Sensible Shoes; Fabulous Drop; Argon; Neither Baby; Funny Farm; Dog House On The Moon.