(5 Over 12/Mailboat)
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6
Written by John Metzger
Tue June 17, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Some folks might find that listening to Circus Money, Walter Beckerís long overdue sophomore set, is a frustratingly uneven experience. In some cases, it adheres quite closely to expectations. At other moments, it seems to veer to one side or the other, missing its target. Nevertheless, as has been the case with much of Steely Danís output over the past 25-plus years, it is highly advisable to take a step back and allow the subtleties of the affair to reveal themselves. With Circus Money, Becker does more than simply waltz through the same moves he has perfected with Steely Dan. To grasp the collection fully, however, fans will need to view it from a different perspective.
Initially, Circus Moneyís jazzier textures leap to the forefront and leave the biggest impression. In fact, saxophonists Chris Potter and Roger Rosenberg (on tenor and baritone, respectively) nearly steal the show. Their solos arenít necessarily aggressive, but they do add jolts of electricity that slice through the sophisticated coolness of Beckerís material. Tracks like Door Number Two, Three Picture Deal, and Paging Audrey certainly wouldnít have sounded out of place within the context of Steely Danís Two Against Nature, Gaucho, or, for that matter Aja. Consequently, they provide a natural point of entry to Beckerís new endeavor.
More problematic, at least at the outset, are the reggae-lite grooves that underscore a number of Circus Moneyís songs. Sometimes, the tunes ó Darkling Down, Selfish Gene, and Do You Remember the Name, among them ó tread so lightly that they struggle to make a solid connection; they often seem as if they might wither, melt, and evaporate beneath the heat of the summer sun. It is easy, however, to mistake the laid-back rhythms that lie at the heart of Circus Money for a lack of inspiration. Settling into (rather than fighting against) the setís relaxed momentum provides the clarity that is necessary for fully appreciating the outing.
In a sense, what Becker accomplished with Circus Money was to draw the jazz-oriented inflections of his work with Steely Dan through the Tulsa-meets-reggae-inclinations of Eric Claptonís 461 Ocean Boulevard. He also adds a dose of Boz Scaggsí shimmering, R&B-tinged pop for flavor ó most notably on Downtown Canon ó but the comparison to Claptonís work proves to be particularly apt. Throughout the collection, Becker seems to take a backseat to his accompanists, often opting to play bass while relegating the role of guitarist to Jon Herington and Dean Parks.
Becker doesnít simply hide within the rhythm section, though. He absolutely revels in his responsibilities by filling the spaces in the music with an array of bottom-end textures that provide all of the guidance that his stellar team of session musicians needs to flourish. Thereís no doubt that Circus Money, much like Claptonís better endeavors, is a team effort ó one that also is so unassuming that it sometimes is difficult to grasp. Once Beckerís vision becomes clear, however, the outing becomes something more than its pleasant gestures initially seem to suggest. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Circus Money is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box