Beat Circus

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Ringleaders Revolt (2004), 6.5/10
Dreamland (2008) , 7/10
Boy From Black Mountain (2009), 6.5/10
These Wicked Things (2019), 6/10

Beat Circus is the brainchild of Boston's composer, film-maker and multi-instrumentalist Brian Carpenter, who was equally exposed to small-town popular music and to free jazz during his formative years. The sextet (featuring accordionist Alec Redfearn, trumpet, tuba, saxophone, banjo and drums) debuted with the instrumental album Ringleaders Revolt (Innova, 2004), a tour de force of festive circus, cartoon and marching-band music, starting with Mandalay Song (clownish clarinet melody, tuba rhythm, joyful sax solo, and so on) via the hilarious Big Top Suite, that includes the March Of The Elephants and the grotesque leitmotiv Clowns, to the dixieland jazz dance The Mack. More complex ideas surface in the spastic, slapstick-paced fanfare of the accordion-tinged Contortionist Tango and in the dissonant Ringleader's Revolt that could be from Frank Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

Carpenter blossomed as a composer with the concept album Dreamland (Cuneiform, 2008), set in an amusement park at the beginning of the electric age, scored for a 22-piece ensemble, and consisting of 16 cinematic vignettes that alternate between warm humor, macabre doom and nostalgic melancholy. The stylistic range has deep roots in the life of small-town America, evoking a less jovial VanDyke Parks. The grotesque robotic ballet Gyp the Blood leads the parade: the children's lullaby The Ghost of Emma Jean, the funereal instrumental elegy Dark Eyes, the frenzied Balkan dance Slavochka the limping blues of The Gem Saloon with echoes of the vocal groups of the 1930s, the instrumental circus music with Spanish overtones of The Rough Riders (and with Dixieland-like improvisation), and the pompously narcissistic March of the Freaks. And of course there are plenty of cabaret skits a` la Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, such as Delirium Tremens and Coney Island Creepshow. By carefully orchestrating the styles of small-town America, Carpenter wove together a breathtaking journey into the psyche of a nation as it was beginning to craft an urban landscape of entertainment and desire.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D’Onofrio)

Beat Circus è la creatura del compositore, regista e polistrumentista di Boston Brian Carpenter, che durante gli anni della formazione ha subito le influenze di musica popolare e free-jazz. Il sestetto (che comprende Alec Redfearn a suonare accordion, tromba, tuba, sassofono, banjo e batteria) debutta con il tour de force multi-stilistico Ringleaders Revolt (Innova, 2004), ancora influenzato dalla musica jazz improvvisata.

Carpenter fiorisce come compositore con il concept-album Dreamland (Cuneiform, 2008), ambientato in un parco di divertimenti all’inizio dell’epoca elettrica, musicato per un’orchestra di 22 elementi e composto da 16 vignette cinematiche che alternano caldo umorismo a una nostalgica malinconia e un macabro destino. La varietà stilistica ha le radici ben piantate nella vita dell’America provinciale, ed evoca quasi un VanDyke Parks meno gioviale. Il grottesco balletto robotico Gyp The Blood apre le danze: la ninnananna per bambini The Ghost Of Emma Jean, la funerea elegia strumentale Dark Eyes, la frenetica danza balcanica Slavochka, lo zoppicante blues di The Gem Saloon con echi dei gruppi vocali degli anni ’30, la musica da circo strumentale di The Rough Riders con armonie spagnoleggianti (e un’improvvisazione alla Dixieland), e l’ampolloso narcisismo di March Of The Freaks. Ovviamente, poi, ci sono parecchie scenette da cabaret alla Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, tipo Delirium Tremens e Coney Island Creepshow. Orchestrando con cura i vari stili cari all’America provinciale, Carpenter intesse un viaggio mozzafiato nella psiche di una nazione come se stesse incominciando a strutturare un paesaggio urbano di divertimento e desiderio.

The arrangements are more sophisticated, elegant and fluid on Boy From Black Mountain (Cuneiform, 2009), the second part of Brian Carpenter's "Weird American Gothic" trilogy, so much so that the album may be viewed as an essay in irreverently revisionist roots-rock in a festive and goliardic atmosphere: the zydeco-tinged The February Train, the fairy-tale folk lullabye Boy From Black Mountain, the frantic, slapping hoedown As I Lay Dying, the solemn Judgment Day and especially the crackling banjo-driven country & western (and klezmer-infected) mess of Petrified Man, The comic, nostalgic and musical zenith is reached with the lively ragtime-era skit of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, replete with sterilized female choir and brass fanfare. Unfortunately, these brilliant gems are dragged down by inferior material, especially in the second half, ranging from a half-baked country ballad like The Quick and the Dead to the hard-rocking instrumental Nantahala.

Beat Circus became a more song-oriented entity on These Wicked Things (2019). Past the 5/4 dance of Murieta's Last Ride, high-caliber prog-rock with Morricone-esque harmonica and field recordings of a choir, the centerpieces are gothic songs like These Wicked Things, adorned with strings and winds (Abigale Reisman on violin, Emily Bookwalter on viola, Alec Spiegelman on bass clarinet and Brad Balliett on bassoon), and Bad Motel. Even better is the twitching Gun Club-esque square dance Just a Lost Lost Dream, whereas the waltzing country elegy The Key is not exactly arresting. The instrumentals cover the usual broad spectrum, from the Zappa-esque instrumental fanfare with bells and twangy guitar of Crow Killer to the faithful recreation of a Morricone theme in The Girl from the West Country, from the mariachi tango of Rosita (Tango) to the psychedelic watercolor Long Way Home. A couple of the songs could have been omitted: they are not Carpenter's forte.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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