Album Reviews

The Afro Circus – Journey to the Centre of the Ear

When I write a review I usually like to have quite an intricate background of the artist I am reviewing. Sometimes, however, this is just not possible. Through a friend I heard of an artist called The Afro Circus which, if you read their facebook page, consists of Josh Goldberg who is an expert in the dark arts of the Chapman Stick and is also credited as ‘guitar and composition’ No one else, just Josh.

Read further and I feel I’ve been stuck in the middle of the latest Crusades novel (or a rather clever plot for an off-shoot of the ever popular console game Assassin’s Creed) you tell me? Here’s what it says,

“The Afro Circus was founded at the start of the first Crusade by the Zoroastrians to help rejuvenate wounded soldiers of both the Templars and the Arabs. Founded on the beliefs that music heals both the soul and the body, and that all humanity was created to listen, regardless of creed or race, the Circus has survived in secret from one generation to the next, bringing healing where needed most.

Come one, come all, to the Afro Circus! With their high-flying fretboard acrobatics and their death-defying drum rolls, they will dazzle, mystify and entertain you. So bring your family, bring your friends, bring everyone you see on the street to the Afro Circus!”

So, it’s possible we may have a secret society of music loving Knights Templar and Arabs who go around healing everyone in some vision of Utopia? Well, if so, why hasn’t Dan Brown written about it? The child inside me would love it to be true but, genuine or not, there is some real, bona fide, music at the core of it and I can certainly associate with that.

Josh released ‘Journey to the Centre of the Ear’ on January 6th of this year and I have given it a few listens already, read on to see what my thought son this intriguing concept are.

Starting the excellent, if a bit strange, track titles off is Ledfethur. A discordant introduction leads into some seriously heavy funk infused music. A jazzy bassline underscores a harsh guitar note that then breaks into something with reggae feel. These disparate souls all combine together to produce something that is well, really interesting. Give an industrial edge to free-form jazz and you will be about there with a comparison. Sargatanas Before the Fall carries on that seriously jazzy edge to proceedings with an undulating note from the guitar that runs throughout. I’ve never been one to champion the Chapman Stick but listening to this album a number of times has made me re-evaluate my thoughts on that lesser known instrument. The music seems to tiptoe along for a while, trying not to disturb someone or something, before opening up into a big smorgasbord of sound with a dark edge to it, the coruscating guitar work is especially good, tight and deliciously evil.

Josh gives The Stick free rein at the beginning of Ja’risa, a song with a real ‘World music’ vibe to it. Laid back, undemanding and utterly relaxing, it is a smooth operator in a fast paced world. The musicianship is precise and very well judged and I find this song just lifts the sprits immensely, an interesting foil to the two previous tracks that had a hint of devilment about them. Pajammered heads down the full-on jazz route with its funky, off beat intro that just lends itself perfectly to a smoky New Orleans jazz club in the heydays of the 20’s and 30’s. A deliciously off kilter guitar runs riot through the middle of the track  before Josh brings everything back to the more traditional with some excellent dextrous playing. To me, this is intelligent music that, whilst having its roots firmly in jazz fusion, keeps delivering on so many fronts to keep you guessing and thinking about what you are hearing.

With a haughty shrug of the shoulders The Afro Circus take another blind turn into Gnarsissus which has a convoluted hard rock extracted feel to it. Keeping the divergent theme that runs through the whole album but taking it up a notch on a chaotic journey that seems to have no particular destination in mind. Harder and heavier in every zone, they are serene moments of calm in the middle of the storm but, on the whole, it is a skittish, divergent track that never allows you to settle, very clever stuff. The Undergod is a little showcase of Josh’s undoubted talents on the Chapman Stick and don’t be put off by the thought of an indulgent solo in the middle of an album, it is really rather good.

Transuranium immediately grabs your attention and takes you running along with it as its dissonant sound adds a heavy note of urgency to proceedings. Like too many voices trying to speak at once, it is jarring at first but it all coalesces into a meaningful musical discourse. The interlude towards the middle is actually quite suspenseful and leaves you on the edge of your seat before some intricate drum and fretwork leads into another hectic section that just leaves you breathless. The final track on the album begins with the ominous tolling of bells and a sinister underbelly of keyboards before Fishaar puts on another identity from left field as if a zombie version of Hank Marvin had taken over. The strident, twangy note that you associate with The Shadows main man has taken on a mean edge and stalks you through the rest of the song, it is really inventive and I actually think it works very well.

I do like it when new music turns up unexpectedly. To be fair, there can as many duff releases as good ones but the anticipation is quite addictive. With nothing to prove and nothing expected of it, it can be quite refreshing and, when it is a sagacious as ‘Journey to the Centre of the Ear’, quite enlightening too. This record is innovative music for the mind and not for the faint hearted but, get to the core of what is on offer, and you will be well rewarded.

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