Ken Filiano – Dreams From A Clown Car (CF 207) ****
The Beatles’ “Mr. Kite”, King Crimson’s “Cirkus” up to Britney Spears’ “Circus” are just a few examples of musicians who use the imagery and romantic context of the acrobats and the clowns as inspiration or even metaphor for their music – or sometimes as a metaphor for the circus of everyday life.
The reason for that is that it’s fun and sad, and compelling, that it requires special skills and entertainment and artistry and that it offers a sense of community among the audience, a joint enjoyment of the fun and the spectacle.
And that’s what you get from this album, in spades, with leader and composer Ken Filiano on double bass and efx, Michael Attias on baritone and alto saxophones, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophones, Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. A band consisting of more than just technical acrobats, but all artists in their own right.
Filiano starts the album with a great arco intro, his signature for what’s to come: intense, dense, virtuoso, joined by Thompson’s drum to add power with Attias and Malaby, each with their own recognisable tone, playing the theme a couple of times then madness breaks loose out of which Malaby emerges singing and swinging over bass and drums locked in a fixed rhythm, then it’s Attias’ turn on baritone to add his part of mad soloing.
“Dog Days” starts with a bass vamp, for a compelling piece with again a strong and changing unison theme, with great variation of intentsity and tempo, built around a central arco piece and alto, then picking up speed and boppish allure.
The typical characteristic of the music is the incredible density and volume coming out of a quartet, with lots of things happening at the same time, all musicians active in their creative way to jointly create an overall atmosphere that is more dramatic than fun, more sad than joyful, especially the slow “Shinobu”.
“Powder & Paint” is without a doubt the best piece on the album, with a great, sweeping theme, majestic and moving. “Retronym” has an almost rockish feel while remaining fully in the jazz tradition too, and with a hypnotic theme on top. And that’s possibly one of the greatest assets of this album: it integrates the past in a very forward thinking mode, with solid rhythms and themes paving the way for great soloing, quite coherent and focused within each composotion, and in the hands of these musicians full of intensity and expressivity from beginning to end.
A major achievement from a great bass-player whose actual output as a composer and band-leader is quite limited, and we want more of this, and with the same band! Recommended.