Circus Harmony: A Curious Diversion for a Good Cause
Ken Kase
7/24/2005 11:52:43 AM

Various Artists
Circus Harmony: First Movement
Circus Day Foundation

The St. Louis City Museum's laudable not-for-profit Circus Day Foundation has produced not only what is reputed to be an exciting show, but also this disc which is chock full of musically diverse selections that reflect the multicultural awareness goals of the foundation itself. By using the circus--one of the oldest art forms in world history--as a platform. the artists who comprise Circus Harmony present a multicultural pastiche of music from different traditions, producing a CD that makes for interesting listening with many unexpected pleasures.

Consider the talents of Iranian-born multi-instrumentalist Farshid Soltanshahi as represented on the first four cuts of the disc that are filled with exotic percussion, hammered dulcimer and some first-rate guitar playing. "Circus Swing" and "Jessica's Day" (the latter written especially for the project by Quincy Jones) put swinging, Latin-infused elements to the fore in musical settings that are both exotic and familiar.

Music more commonly associated with a circus atmosphere to Western ears can be found on the selections performed by the St. Louis Community Circus Band. All of their selections feature compositions by P.T. Richards and are well-performed and recorded, bringing a decidedly 19th century American flavor to the album. The tracks also provide a great opportunity for motorists to blast this traditional band music at stop lights for the sheer delight of seeing some perplexed faces. I've done this myself and it's great fun.

Sandy Weltman & the Hebrew Hillbillies provide some of the most entertaining stuff on the disc with three new arrangements of traditional songs. "Terk in America" sounds like a Jewish tango with elements of klezmer music performed with a backwoods sensibility. If the Hatfields and the McCoys were Jewish, this is the music they would enjoy on a Friday night, their grizzled faces reddened by Manischewitz moonshine. All three selections work well, providing yet another interesting twist to the circus milieu with, oddly enough, the harmonica as the primary melodic instrument. "Varshavers/Leibedig Medley" goes deeper toward semitic roots and "Oy Tate" even adds a dose of African percussion to the mix.

The listener's blood really starts pumping with the selections performed by Xiaoyu Yan, a virtuoso of the ancient Chinese instrument, the Zheng. These tracks are introspective and beautiful, adding a minimalist grace and deftness oozing with mystery and understatement. "Fishing Boat In The Sunset" is a perfect example of Xiaoyu Yan's mastery and, along with the other selections, provides a great unexpected left turn in the album's pacing.

Those who have ever ben in the presence of a Taiko drumming ensemble know that the aggressive, pulsating rhythms are a great way to check to see if one has a pulse which may have been deadened by the banality of day-to-day life. The St. Louis Osuwa Taiko Drummers infuse the disc with real fire and passion and provide those who have never experienced this type of music live with five excellent cuts.

Circus Harmony: First Movement manages to provide intriguing listening while supporting a good cause. Visit the link above and check it out for yourself. The mix of cultural elements and excellent musicianship make this disc a real find and a wonderful diversion from the norm.

You can purchase Circus Harmony: First Movement at Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records, or at Circus Day Foundation


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