month ago or so, I threw something up about this album on Riff Market, something to the extent of Zurich's Kalabrese being 2007's Jamiroquai, something about his debut Rumpelzirkus LP being a gateway into the smooths: smooth jazz, smooth talking, smooth love. Call me flip but I really think I was dead-on. There's something really sultry to Rumpelzirkus, not unlike Herbert/Siciliano productions, and in general the understated ‘70s Wurlitzer jazz-funk feel reminds me of Grover Washington Jr., how a track like "Mr. Magic" can get you really hot but never actually make you sweat. The groove is the thing here, and when Kalabrese finds one he really lets it linger, never feels pressure to build it up or break it down too quickly. He's curiously patient, in a way that reminds you that Kalabrese shares his name with Calabrese, the black grape behind Sicilian wines. That reminds you that you didn't even have to look this up, that you know about this because you're older and mellower and wine's been your drug of choice for a year now. What I'm pained to say, basically is that Rumpelzirkus is a little bit A.O., and certainly won't destroy you like a good club track, and you have to prepare yourself to be easy here. You have to be OK with that.
Then again: This isn't the most straightforward feel-good LP out there at all. Every track has at least something askew: The digital drum stutters and the Jamaican dude saying crazy things about divine consciousness in "Oisi Zuekunft," an otherwise sparse keyboard / bass / snarerim click number with slick horn stabs; the ghostly vocal treatments and squelchy synths that end up making the choked acoustic guitar strums in "Deep" seem like the oddball; the growls of muted trumpet and fingersnapping metronome and electric xylophone patterns that make a low-key bass-and-drum groove about Kalabrese falling out of a deskchair seem like a serious mishap. Herbert again is a good touchstone: Kalabrese uses off-kilter sounds to create space and discomfort in otherwise plain compositions, but Kalabrese's much funkier and sloppier and funnier than Herbert, which makes me think of George Clinton. Beyond the Clintonesque ad-libs ("I'm a chicken!"; "It's a big circus, and everybody is just freaking out"; etc.) it's also like Kalabrese just to let the tape roll for "Auf Dem Hof" and let the groove build organically, instruments added and subtracted, let the song snowball into something massive and rickety and about to explode at any second.
The live drums and horns and bass and keyboard are a pretty fantastic touch to every track, definitely K's cap's feather, what really make this album's best grooves pop. I'm less taken than others by his songier outings, such as sunburnt and possibly too smooth downtempo number "Hide," or the probable Dave Matthews cover "Body Tight," or the mopey, mostly acoustic ballad "Heartbreak Hotel" ("I'm a prisoner in my own heartbreak hotel..."), but they're not entirely unlistenable, especially if you like Dave Matthews. If anything my biggest reservation is that this album really feels long, that there are sometimes swaths of tracks that don't seem to go anywhere at all and could just be done away with—which, then again, seems to misunderstand the album's charm in the first place.
Reviewed by: Nick Sylvester
Reviewed on: 2007-04-02