The red tin ceilings and coziness of Barbès were ideal for the throwback instrumentation and fin-de-siecle inspired music of The Beat Circus (Apr. 14th). The narrative songs evoked cabarets, Wild West saloons, circus sideshows and Old World gypsies. But the prodigious musicianship and stylistic miscegenation was all modern; the results, refreshingly entertaining. The charismatic Brian Carpenter led, his slide trumpet and effusive onstage direction suggesting Steven Bernstein, while his carny barks and bullhorn singing hinted at Tom Waits. Brandon Seabrook's banjo lent an old timey sound, though his aggressive attack and rhythmically inverted solos were not typical pickin'. Likewise, the rich accordion harmonies were nostalgic, but Alec K Redfearn extended its range with a distortion-laden feature on "Contortionist Tango , drummer Matt McLaren adding percussive colors on the tune while breezily swaying between the mutant waltz and frenetic tango in "Josephine . Ron Caswell anchored with tasty tuba bass lines and added comic relief with musical quotes and vocalizing on "The Rough Riders . The tune received a Spanish tinge from trumpet and the violin of Kathe Hostetter. She spun spirited gypsy runs on "Bloody Boy , elegantly blending with Briggan Krauss' alto sax for its rapid staccato. A buzzing, reedy solo by Krauss built from the long, mournful melody of "Delirium Tremens , adding textured nuance befitting the cinematic composition.
~ Sean Fitzell
One of the small amenities valued by slaves of New York is the ability to walk to work. Drummer William Hooker and ten other Hell's Kitchen residents did just that during the Rhythm in the Kitchen festival at the Metro Baptist Church on West 40th Street (Mar. 30th-Apr. 1st). Hooker is the moving force behind a new organization called the Hell's Kitchen Cultural Center and presented his band The Gift on the last night of the festival. With violinist Jason Kao Hwang and Roy Campbell on brass and flute, The Gift is Hooker's strongest group since his quartet with Mark Hennan. They played a stirring and, by Hooker's standards, rather subdued set in the vaulted chapel. Other neighborhood bandleaders included Francois Grillot, Elise Wood, Ellery Eskelin, Jack Walrath, Brian Smith, Tom Hamilton, Sonny Simmons and Scott Wilson, while percussionist Sean Meehan and pianist Neal Kirkwood (also denizens of the Kitchen) performed striking solo sets. It was a charming, almost quaint festival, with scores of thank-yous and professions of neighborhood pride. Highlights included Eskelin's far-flying duo with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and a confident pairing of Walrath with bassist Boris Kozlov, but the stunner was Meehan's meditation on snare drum and cymbals, which left an unprepared audience rapt, or at least too curious to move a muscle. The organizers promise to carry on, bringing regular events to the neighborhood that was once the center of New York's jazz scene.