Circus Mind: Joy Machine
Two decades in, the New York-based Circus Mind hasn’t exactly spent a lot of time in the studio: Joy Machine is only their third album, and it arrives a full 15 years after the previous set, Silver Flower. (Their self-titled debut came out in 2002.) Those who remember the earlier releases, or who’ve been to gigs, will be relieved to know that there’s been no drastic shift in focus: The funk is still in place, with a pronounced predilection toward the New Orleans variety very much front and center. Mark Rechler—who is more often than not called the “ringleader” than bandleader (Circus Mind—get it?)— remains the prime motivating force, but he’s sharp and generous enough to delegate, which is always a good idea when you’ve got collaborators as distinctive as guitarist Brandon “Taz” Niederauer by your side. Niederauer provides many of the more jaw-dropping instrumental moments on Joy Machine, his soloing and comping breezing seamlessly through psychedelia, prog and jazz elements that take these songs just far enough from the funk to give them the brighter colors they didn’t even know they needed. Guitarist David Berg, bassist Chris Crosby— who has since passed away—and drummer Dan Roth round out the set’s core unit. All are pros, and together they build an excitement and original vision into each track that’s not always present in the jamband world. A number of A-list guests bring their own game to the proceedings—Ivan Neville’s contribution to “Jazzfest Time!,” released as a single prior to the album, gives it added cred for sure, while Wilco’s Nels Cline, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Marc Ribot are also among the visitors. Several tunes stand out, but you don’t need to go past the first, the retro-funk single “Are You Ready?,” to latch onto the groove that permeates the entire record. You’re good to go from there.