Curlew is a long-standing revolving fusion unit with deep roots, drawing heavily from New York's alternative music scene over 24 years and nine records. Curlew has developed a cult following of sorts, driven by saxophonist George Cartwright's enduring vision. Cartwright contributes about half of the compositions on Mercury and some of the record's most energetic playing, though there aren't any notable weaknesses elsewhere in the quintet.
By the time the brief and ironically titled "Still" erupts from the speakers, there's no doubt this will be an edgy, energetic voyage. It's a burning hunk of a rocker, underpinned by Fred Chalenor's ostinato bass and distorted blocks of sound from the guitar of Dean Granros. After Cartwright takes things to the outer limits, the group pauses a bit to regroup and work through a theme. It gets right back into energy mode with a (seeming) collective improvisation where nobody hesitates to butt heads. Down the road, "Still Still" takes off where the opener began.
Keyboard player Chris Parker contributes "Funny Money," which goes deep into a hefty funk fueled by a guitar vamp and tight drumming. Brief solos gradually turn toward a reverberant dream sequence, which then dissolves right back into the backbeat and then a jumpy group improvisation, only to close out with another dreamy wisp. Down the road, Fred Chalenor's "Ludlow" offers a more regular alternative, anchored by an undulating rhythmic cycle and rippling jauntily to a satisfying conclusion.
While Curlew spends plenty of time working together to develop coherent themes, the real meat of Mercury lies in improvisation, and particularly the more open variety. These players are not at all afraid to take risks, which makes for exciting but demanding listening. (Those who prefer a more structured variety of fusion are best advised to look elsewhere.) There may be pensive moments scattered throughout the disc, but make no mistake: this is testosterone all the way. The Mercury rises high indeed.
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