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CIRCUS

Circus

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Amongst the earliest traces of progressive rock already fully gestated in the 60s alongside the likes of Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and King Crimson were a few smaller but similarly minded acts that didn't quite end up in the history books the same way. One of these short-lived bands was CIRCUS that spent most of the 60s as The Storm Shakers part of the clumsily named Philip Goodhand-Tait and the Stormsville Shakers before changing the moniker in 1967 when Philip parted ways. These days the band is more famous as the first project of saxophonist / flautist Mel Collins who would play on some of the earliest King Crimson albums ("In The Wake of Poseidon," "Lizard," "Islands," "Red").

CIRCUS was a tight jazz-rock band that crafted some high quality musical workouts that mixed the heavier aspects of late 60s rock with the nuances of jazz modulations, folk, pop and psychedelia. Add to that a stellar Latin influenced percussive flair that added an impassioned mix of jazz and ethnic drive to create an innovative melting pot of juicy jazz-rock yumminess. Collins is the star of the show here with sizzling hot sax and flute solos but with the addition of the musical virtuosity of the rest, Kirk Riddle kills it on bass, Ian David Jelfs delivers some excellent blues / jazz guitar workouts while Chris Burrows creates his own tapestry of drumming diversity.

After Goodhand-Tait left to write material for a band named Love Affair, the newly named CIRCUS began to focus less on the pop side of music and joined the ranks of the more experimental progressive bands emerging such as The Nice, Soft Machine, Caravan, Colosseum and the brand spanking new King Crimson. The band experienced some minor success as The Stormshakers and as CIRCUS landed on the Transatlantic record label which began in 1961 as an import label of American blues, folk and jazz to the UK market before signing new talents. CIRCUS found themselves debuting the one and only self-titled album on Transatlantic in 1969 and joined the nascent progressive rock scene.

While CIRCUS crafted a brilliant mix of tracks with uplifting musical performances, the choice of tracks was rather strange. It was customary of the day to include covers but for a progressive band trying to break free from pop influences, CIRCUS took the bold step of including four with the most puzzling decision of beginning the album with a cover of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." While this feat that easily could've been an instant death sentence for most, the band pulled it off so extremely well as they not only faithfully nailed the melodic aspects of the song but augmented it with a stealthy jazz improv performance and ample doses of art rock creativity thus essentially making it their own in many ways.

Of the eight tracks, only half were originals written by Mel Collins whereas the other half were covers which included not only the The Beatles but also "Monday, Monday" from The Mamas & The Papas, "Don't Make Promises" from Tim Hardin and a feisty interpretation of "I I B.S." from Charles Mingus. An odd combo effect for sure but somehow saved by the sheer musical prowess of the musicians involved. The album comes off as a rather bizarre mix of genre shifting with jazzified pop rockers existing with calypso-tinged Latin rock, progressive folk and more heavier rock sections. What sounds awkward in writing actually works in practice which is utterly amazing.

The name of the game in the music world is that for every band that made it to the big time possibly 100 did not so while King Crimson and Soft Machine have gone down as pioneers of the progressive rock scene that burst onto the scene, CIRCUS on the other hand has been relegated as a mere footnote in a more detailed study of the era. It's quite unfortunate that despite the band having written material for a second album couldn't make it all work out and soon disbanded leaving their one and only musical artifact a desirable collector's item for hardcore sleuths of vinyl obscurities. It's quite sad that this band didn't experience more success because they clearly had the talent. I usually dislike covers but CIRCUS took four disparately styled tracks and made each of them their own. This album was an unexpected surprise and one that i really think needs more attention.

Report this review (#2202943)
Posted Wednesday, May 15, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars The self-titled one and only album release from the English band Circus (1969) is a rare treasure and one of the earliest and finest examples of a genre that would later come to be defined as Jazz-Rock. The album features two wonderful cover versions of well-known songs by The Beatles and The Mama & the Papas.

The album opens with a terrific cover version of The Beatles "Norwegian Wood" which, dare I say it, is even better than the original. It's a perfect 7-minute-long introduction to the album and represents the best song on the album as a whole. There's a marvellously long instrumental build-up with some skilful fuzzy guitar riffs twinned with pleasantly understated and laid-back drumming. The music is overlaid with the sound of a saxophone, which is where the Jazz-Rock element comes into it. The real highlight of the song comes in the instrumental break in the middle section with repeated heavy guitar riffs and a powerful rhythm section which gathers in intensity and speed towards the conclusion. Track 2 "Pleasures of a Lifetime" is the longest song on the album at over 8 minutes in duration. It's a beautifully sweet-sounding song featuring warm and tender vocals and a gentle guitar, leaving one feeling in a pleasantly mellow mood. The mid-section features a Jazz break with some versatile saxophone playing and up-tempo drumming before returning to a more sedate and low-key pace for the song's finale. Track 3 "St. Thomas" is an uplifting and fast-paced instrumental Jazz number featuring some excellent work from the flautist, very reminiscent of Ian Anderson in Jethro Tull. Track 4 "Goodnight John Morgan" is another Jazz instrumental which continues at a more relaxed pace and features a very pleasant piano twinned with saxophone and gentle drumming which is easy on the ears. Track 5 "Father of My Daughter" is another soft and gentle song with pleasant-sounding vocals in similar vein to Track 2 and this very agreeable and laid-back number compliments the album nicely. The unusually titled "II B.S." is the next tune on the album, opening with strange sound effects, before launching into a fast-paced, 6-minute-long Jazz instrumental jam session, where the skilled musicians are giving free-rein to demonstrate their musical dexterity to the fullest extent. Track 7 features the second cover version on the album, "Monday Monday" by The Mamas & the Papas. Again, this very talented group of musicians demonstrate their prowess with the long and Jazzy instrumental introduction. The vocals kick-in about halfway through the song and it stands as a very worthy cover version of a great song. The final song "Don't Make Promises" rounds off the album beautifully with another nice gentle song featuring a masterly instrumental Jazz break midway through the song.

A superb album overall and highly recommended for fans of early Jazz-Rock. It's a must-have addition to any Jazz-Rock lover's album collection.

Report this review (#2271813)
Posted Sunday, October 20, 2019 | Review Permalink

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