Category Archives: Circle

Circle-2: Gathering (1971)

“I think audiences are quite comfortable watching something coming into being.” – Brian Eno.

Kronomyth 6.4: MAGIC, THIS GATHERING. On paper, adding another player to the chaotic trio music of Chick Corea, Barry Altschul and Dave Holland was a recipe for disaster. In practice, surprisingly, Circle turned out to be the ideal expression for Corea’s experimental, improvisational, musical communion. The early fruits of this partnership were recorded in New York City, but were made available here only as a Japanese import. Gathering, the group’s second release, is forty minutes of inspired musical interplay that straddles the worlds of avant-garde jazz and modern classical music. I was tone-deaf to The Song of Singing. A.R.C., though better, was still too dark. But something about Gathering draws me into the music. As the audience, I felt as though the earlier trio music barred me from admission; it was noisy, complicated, disconnected. The music of Circle is open by comparison. I feel involved in its act of creation and exploration. Every time I listen to Gathering, I hear and experience new things. There is a palpable connection between the players as well. The Song of Singing often felt like three unrelated monologues superimposed on each other. Gathering is a dialogue. The conversation centers largely around the subject of what constitutes music. Saxophones yield to slide whistles, strings are plucked and pulled and scratched, anything within reach is struck, yet it’s all done in sympathy to what’s happening around it. Is it improvisational? Yes, but done with a communal spirit that transcends the usual limitations of spontaneous composition. In a sense, listening to Gathering is like watching a modern artist in the act of painting, which I think is what Eno was saying about music. Or maybe he was talking about Japanese steakhouses; it’s hard to tell with him.

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Chick Corea: Circulus (1978)

Circle is fast becoming my benchmark for free jazz. This double-elpee compilation fills in more of the history around their brief but remarkably fruitful association. The first track, recorded several months earlier than the remaining pieces, features just the trio of Corea, Altschul and Holland. Where their earlier trio work was noisy and confrontational, “Drone” is soothing and natural, like a landscape painting of sound. I keep coming back to kinetic theory when trying to describe the two: A.R.C. and its ilk were superheated molecules that didn’t impact one another except on impact, but with Circle the molecules are in sympathy. There’s also a curious spirit at work in Circle, almost a sense of innocence as the musicians seek to discover new sounds together. On a piece like “Quartet No. 2,” for example what strikes me isn’t the quality of playing—it’s the quality of listening that impresses. The quartet is keenly tuned in to what the other person is playing, and what ensues is not merely a conversation but a kind of free jazz support group where the members goad each other on to cathartic discovery. That sense of discovery starts with their own instruments: Corea hammers, plucks and punches his piano to get new sounds out of it, Braxton’s breathing goes from lungfulls of fury to a death rattle, Holland moves effortlessly between bass, bow and guitar, and everyone gets into the percussion game. (If you really want to hear the band head into the wild, check out the Cartesian catharsis that closes “Quartet No. 2” and stick around for the brilliant experimentation of “Quartet No. 3.”) The songs of Circle are miniature musical adventures ripe for rediscovery. You’ll need a needle for this one for now, but maybe some enterprising label will reissue Circulus on compact disc some day.

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