Circus - Circus [Talking Elephant Records - 2021]
From the year 1969, this self-titled debut release was the one and only release from Mel Collins( King Crimson, Camel) fronted band Circus, which saw the saxophonist/ flautists and his four-piece offering up a jazz-rock record with some progressive leanings. The album was an even mix of fairly decent covers, and Collins originals. And this is recent(ish) CD release of the album by Talking Elephant records.
The CD comes presented in six-panel colour digipak- this recreates the original releases art/ layout- with the front cover featuring the band playing live superimposed onto a beach, and surround circus tent-like design/ titles. The CD just features the original eight tracks from the album, and no extras. I’m unsure if the album has been remastered at tall, but the whole thing sounds good enough for a late 60’s recording.
As far as I can gather/ surmise Circle formed in the late 60’s- though it seems difficult to narrow it down to a specific year. The bands' line-up ( on this release) was Mel Collins- flute & tenor sax, Ian David Jeffs- guitar & Vocals, Kirk Riddle- bass & guitar, and Chris Burrows drums. With extra percussion on two tracks by Keith Bleasby. The band only ever recorded this one and only album, though apparently at one point they had been plans to record another.
The album opens with its first of four covers “Norwegian Wood”- this is a nearing seven and a half version of this Beatle's track. It kicks off with a meaty almost doomy blues-rock rendition of the tracks lead riff. As we move on we get dizzying sax fills, lead breaks, and initial more pared back vocal moments, that latter blend into the heavy blues-rock groove. Deeper in we slip into a heavy jazz-rock vibe, as the guitar, drums and horn merge/ build together. So this is a good opener and a good different sounding cover.
Next up we have a Collins composition “Pleasure Of A Lifetime”- which runs nearing the eight and half minute mark. It starts out as a layback organ, wondering bass, clean guitar tones, and smoky sax trailed affair- with drifting at points male chours vocals. But at a point, it shifts into more galloping jazz-rock, before winding down again. As we move through the album we come to another two Collins compositions we have the light jiving organ groove and sax wail of “Goodnight John Morgan”- which oddly fades out when it feels like it should go on at just under the two minutes. Then there is the mellow flute lined early prog of “Father Of My Daughter” which musically has quite an early King Crimson, though the close male harmonizing doesn’t fit with this comparison.
The album is topped off with two more covers- we have The Mama & The Papas “Monday Monday” , which is a flute & jazzy guitar licked take on the song, which feels a little twee. And “Don’t Make Promises” which was a hit for American folk/ blues player Tim Hardin- the cover starts off with an almost Birds type vibe, before moving towards a nice bongo-tastic jazz-rock out with some neat and grooving flute soloing.
In finishing this self-titled is a worthy enough debut album, highlighting the beginnings of Collin’s career- and it’s interesting to think what further releases might have sounded like. If you're a fan of jazz-rock meets early prog/ and or Mr Collins other later work this is something you’ll be wanting to check out. Roger Batty