Curlew is the name for a series of punk-jazz or free jazz-rock-fusion bands that have comprised saxophonist George Cartwright and a changing cast of friends since 1979. North America originally appeared in Europe as the second of Curlew’s eight albums; this reissue is augmented with a live session by a different Curlew. The material begins as mere two- or four-bar riffs-imaginative riffs, though-over rock ostinatos. Usually the clever themes and ostinatos and tempos go on to change, and the fetching set-up of “Mink’s Dream” is two bars of theme alternating with spacey rubato moments. There are also plenty of comments on the themes by various instruments and short solos and full-band freakouts-variety is Curlew’s one constant. Only Cartwright and electric cellist Tom Cora play in both groups. On alto, the eclectic Cartwright evokes Ornette Coleman’s latter-day style here and there as well as plenty of tied-to-the-beat rock sax with climactic squeals; he also has an amusing rubato tenor solo on the studio version of “Mink’s Dream.” The late Cora, whom I first heard playing free improvisations, sounds constrained here: on the live version of “Shoats,” for example, his free, busy lines build to a conventional, long-noted climax.
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