Beat Circus’ Dreamland is one of the most unsettling albums released in 2008, its entire concept based on the namesake amusement park in Coney Island that first symbolized the American grandeur in the early years of 1900, then was destroyed by fire. The music, conceived by leader Brian Carpenter – a brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist – is a damnation-like concoction of styles, a hypothetical synthesis of Harry Partch, Univers Zero, Tom Waits, Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs on LSD and Ed Wood imagery in which instruments such as banjo, trombone and Theremin recite an essential role amidst a general feel of out-of-timeness bathed in warped sinuosity. The large part of the tunes is instrumental – lots of food for bad-tempered thought everywhere – and there are two covers: the Russian traditional “Dark Eyes” and “Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland”. Still, the really distressing track has to be “Coney Island Creepshow”, a veritable aural depiction of a horror show becoming substantial through ruthlessly frenzied vocals and wicked laughs in the background. Preposterously, something that would terrorize many children is exactly what pushes this writer’s attention even more towards the twisted, trippy, outstandingly designed adventures that Carpenter dreamed of. Among the implicated parties we detect the presence of Antony & The Johnsons’ cellist Julia Kent, while the sleeve artwork – which includes reproductions of original postcards and typical comic graphics – was masterfully devised by Brian Dewan. The production is a great achievement by Martin Bisi, who Carpenter thus defines: “a meticulous sculptor who took my big, seemingly impossible ideas and moved them forward to an outcome which more often than not surpassed what I had originally envisioned”. Amen.
When you’re down and troubled, as Mr. Taylor used to croon, there’s nothing better than the helping hand given by a Brotherhood Of Breath album. Luckily, Cuneiform keep devoting a lot of resources to seek out the cream of what the archives worldwide offer as far as Chris McGregor’s collective’s live tapes are concerned, the latest succulent fruit falling off the branch being the gorgeous Eclipse At Dawn, titled after a tune by Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand). I always felt that the ultimate review for a release by BOB should consist of a sheer list of the players’ names, since that’s enough of a proof of the quality of the musicianship implied; although for this concert – recorded at 1971’s Berliner Jazztage Festival – trumpeter Mongezi Feza was not in attendance, the rest of the companionship did their best, succeeding, to let the listeners forget about single instrumentalists. This record is an uninterrupted ode to cheerfulness, paradoxically offered by a group of artists that was literally decimated by death over the years. Even some imprecision and a few incorrect notes turn into an element of inner fortitude, the performance largely built upon sing-along, riff-centered themes alternated with maddened blowouts (Gary Windo’s brain-splitting incinerations of saxophone’s rules are something to be heard indeed). An unremitting whirlwind of exhilarating playing, a heart that pumps like a bodybuilder’s buried under a frayed appearance, and yet another stunning success featuring our honest heroes. Listen to the crowd’s reaction following the set’s finale and no extra words will be required. “Bless you a thousand times”, says McGregor to the audience at the end of the fiesta. They were actually blessed that night and now you can be, too.