Pianist/bassist Petros Sakelliou‘s Visual Music Circus plays movies for the ears. Despite Sakelliou’s money gig with a famous troupe of acrobats, the ensemble’s new instrumental album – streaming online – isn’t circus rock, nor is it as phantasmagorical as the band name implies. But it is cinematic. The group is playing a rare NYC show on March 20 at 7:30 PM at Drom; advance tix are ten bucks. The album features a twelve-piece group including horns and strings, which realistically might be more stripped down in concert.
It opens with an uneasily swaying, lush minor-key theme with echoes of Belgian barroom musette, Mediterranean balladry and the Italian baroque, Sakelliou tossing in a darkly blues-infused piano solo followed by a considerably more carefree one by alto saxophonist Ryoichi Yamaki as the mood brightens. Susanna Quilter’s balmy flute in tandem with Magda Giannikou’s ambered washes of accordion give the second track the feel of a mellotron-driven 70s art-rock theme and then take it in a more pensively bustling, Romany jazz-flavored direction, down to a long, allusively creepy, marionettish piano solo and then some stark violin from Ben Powel.
Linus Wyrsch’s chill clarinet lines in tandem with Giannikou’s accordion infuse the tiptoeing latin stroll that follows, Anna Hoffman’s baritone sax adding a wry edge that Yamaki spirals away from before the band drops out for an expansive piano solo: lots of moods packed into seven minutes. Sakelliou describes the diptych that follows as ironic: it’s not clear how its colorful, accordion-fueled Punch-and-Judy ballet, chase scene, and blustery, achingly vamping jazz tableau qualify as such.
A soaring, lushly bubbling, latin-tinged love theme slowly develops out of a warily circling intro, solos all around capped off by vibraphonist Mika Mimura – who also plays in Giannikou’s similarly colorful, shapeshifting Banda Magda. The album ends with a jaunty, dixieland-inflected “swingalong” that sounds like the Microscopic Septet going off on a tangent toward Romany jazz, driven by the nimble rhythm section of Yuki Ito on bass and Ryo Noritake on drums. In this age of bedroom recording, it’s rare to find something so unselfconsciously epic and richly orchestrated, a credit to Sakelliou’s ability to shift on a dime between idioms, ideas and instrumental voicings. They should be a lot of fun live.