How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The timing is a bit inopportune for this. In a world rife with disorder, the last thing the listening population needs is music to dismantle the mind.
Things start cheerfully enough, with a big-top band overture that culminates in oohs and aahs from an admiring crowd, then erupts into a rapid-plucking, drum-stomping, horn-blasting good time for "Mandalay Song. But then things begin to fall threateningly apart. Glimpses of disjointedness arise on "Big Top Suite Part 1: March of the Elephants. Brandon Seabrook heads toward groove country with his rebellious mandolin. Things start to get strange.
Beginning with "I Am An Not An Animal, I am A Human Being, the next few tracks successfully create the looming, larger-than-life atmosphere of the circus. Brian Carpenter's slide trumpet and Jim Hobbs' alto saxophone relay the underlying creepiness that looms beneath all those silly clowns and sparkling child acrobats. Soon, the greedy laugh of some ring-leading madman oozes through the sounds of Alec K. Redfearn's accordion, warbling with trepidation.
Eventually the Beat Circus' attempts at free jazz mingle with horrifying screams and lion roars provided by Ron Caswell's turntables. DJ Hazard lends his frightening voice to the interminable narration of "Escape From The Big House. The nightmarish story about fifty straight-jacketed mental patients fleeing to freedom is laced with terrible imagery and embarrassing metaphor. Too bad for the obnoxious vocal accompaniment, because the song's swanky groove is actually quite attractive.
As the focus moves from dazzling tricksters to shady shysters, the music infects with the knowledge that beneath all the shiny goodness of the world, a scummy underbelly bristles with sin.
Track Listing: Mandalay Song (4:01); Big Top Suite Part 1: March of the Elephants (2:00); I am not an Animal, I am
a Human Being (1:14); Big Top Suite Part 2: Clowns (5:21); Contortionist Tango (6:56); Requiem for
John Merrick (2:34); Intermission (1:12); Big Top Suite Part 3: Daredevil Chicken Trapeze (0:48);
Grand Entrance (1:39); The Mack (4:21); Escape from the Big House (5:06); Die by the Sword (3:24);
Ringleader's Revolt (5:36); Exit Music (1:50)
Personnel: Brian Carpenter,
Alec K. Redfearn,