Rag captures the best from a series of freely improvised meetings between saxophonist George Cartwright and percussionist Davu Seru, recorded at various Minneapolis venues over the course of 2009. Cartwright – longtime leader of Curlew, and owner of a musical c.v. which includes Ornette Coleman, Half Japanese, Alex Chilton and Loren Mazzacane – can be restlessly melodic or jaggedly guttural on the reeds, although his bedrock lyricism is never far from the surface. Seru’s playing is a trompe l’oreille marriage of forward motion and suspended stasis; over the past decade, he’s performed with Milo Fine, Paul Metzger and Evan Parker, among others. From the anthemic opening of “Titus” to the miniature coda of “I Think Eudora Knows,” Rag is a lively dialogue between two masters of their craft. Released in an edition of 300 copies on colored vinyl, each with a unique cover print by Anne Elias and a digital download coupon.
"Across five improvisations, Cartwright is heard on soprano in addition to his usual alto and tenor saxophones. Seru is an interesting foil for Cartwright, start-stop jitters and sound-rhythm cut with an extremely broad stroke, he surges, piles and disappears against hard-bitten, heel-digging tenor on "Titus," as reedy lines bunch, billow and shout, flaming out and recharging. "Saint Joe to Himself" lopes and wanders at the outset, Cartwright's soprano hanging behind Seru's startling rumble and thrash before sending spikes through the mass.
The centerpiece of the album is the 18 minute "Troubles like Old Dirt," which takes up most of the second side, Cartwright's alto in bubbly, flywheel-charged cycles that recall Oliver Lake at his fiercest. Seru drops out to allow the reedman a space to explore the clicks of his pads and spin out soft, breathy tendrils and terse patter. That patter becomes a bevy of bitter screams as the drummer's taiko-like jabs and ceremonial weight return to encircle and shove off Cartwright's volleys, which shift from coiled multiphonics to a sinewy blues processional before reveling in jaunty hops. Rag is an excellent duo, finding two musicians engaged in an epic conversation and tug of wits, breath and rhythm." - Clifford Allen, All About Jazz
"Cartwright is a protean reed player. On tenor he is capable of reminding the listener of Rollins one minute and Ayler the next. On alto, the Dolphy tinge is evident one minute but there's also the impassioned melodic streak of Julius Hemphill. But these are all reference points. Cartwright ultimately sounds like himself, obviously a multi-faceted player. He's well matched by Seru. I suspect if Seru were based in New York instead of Minneapolis, he'd be on everybody's first call list. He's a remarkable free player, imbuing the music with a constant motion: ebbing and flowing, responding to and instigating Cartwright to go into different areas with subtle shifts in texture and tempo. These two respond to each other like they've been playing together for years. The duets are varied and Cartwright's shifting of saxophones assures diversity. The only disappointment is that this wasn't a 2-LP set." - Robert Iannapollo, Cadence
The front cover images are a sequence of stills from this short film by Anne Elias: