Tuba-driven, quirky, and fun, Kingcake is a Left Coast version of New York's infamous Spanish Fly, or better yet, a miniature model of composer Henry Threadgill's outsized Very Very Circus. Like both of the animated groups mentioned above, this SoCal trio indulges in a kind of under-the-big-top showmanship that's simultaneously serious and sly. By merging compositional precision with free-leaning improv and — at times — a clownish sense of humor, the band forms a pliable, entertaining music that's sharply focused.
With tunes largely revolving around Scot Ray's bubbly bounce on the burliest of brass instruments, the band evokes lowdown Nawlins funk and pomo-bop sparkle with a combination of L.A. style and trad-jazz substance. On its eponymous debut, the threesome gives due props to boundary-busting pioneers with the Bird-like boppin' of “Pinball Wizard,” the slinky soul power of “Monkjunk,” and the haunting harmony of “Dolphy.” Woodwind player Matt Zibley further invokes the spirit of the legendary Eric Dolphy every time he busts a bent blue note on his tone-rich bass clarinet. It's a welcome allusion and a snug fit with the leader's plump grooves and Brad Dutz's multiphonic percussion, which bobs to and fro in its dual role as rhythmic anchor and melodic colorist.
Tasty musicianship tempers Kingcake's appetite for the big goof (what d'ya expect with a tuba on the front line?). The group's crafty three-ring circus will dazzle jazz fans across the spectrum.