[Review] Chick Corea/David Holland/Barry Altschul: A R C (1971)

Inspired by the principles of Scientology and somehow, improbably, even more convoluted.

Kronomyth 6.0: The son of the song of singing.

More avant-garde, improvisational music from the trio of Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. The album’s title is a reference to the Scientological principles of Affinity, Reality and Communication, which I won’t get into here because Scientology has already had its fifteen minutes. If you’ve heard The Song of Singing, you know where A.R.C. is headed: notes jumbled together in a giant blender where random shapes form amid still-frozen chunks of form and melody.

The main ingredients here are inspiration, communication and reaction; maybe they should have called it I.R.C., since that’s probably closer to their original intent. The album literally picks up where SOS left off, with another version of “Nefertitti” (you’d think a religion started by a writer would encourage better spelling, but apparently not), this time actually using the original horn melody to start the piece (the SOS version took the improvised rhythm section of the original as its inspiration). “Ballad For Tillie” has hints of form; otherwise, it sounds like some misshapen musical monster dragging itself along the ground with insects trailing after it. It’s an image that comes to mind fairly often with this trio, as their music tends to evoke the fantastic and the grotesque. The first side of music closes with the stop-and-start title track, featuring a cool drum solo from Altschul and that perennial percussive wingman to the triangle, the samba whistle.

The second side begins with Holland’s lovely “Vedana,” the calm eye in A.R.C.’s musical tempest. Unfortunately, Vedana’s good will is squandered with the annoying “Thanatos”—improvised noisemongering that fades in and out and has likely occasioned more than one unsuspecting listener to troubleshoot their audio rack before discovering the ruse. The album ends (fittingly) with “Games,” more musical watersplashing from the talented trio.

You can stare at a Jackson Pollock painting and start to see things over time. You can achieve much the same effect staring at a stuccoed ceiling. I’m not saying that there isn’t art afoot in A.R.C. or The Song of Singing, but a roomful of Pollock paintings (or an albumful of improvisational jazz) begins to lose perspective after the initial shock has ended.

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Original LP Version

A1. Nefertitti (Wayne Shorter) (9:40)
A2. Ballad For Tillie (Chick Corea/David Holland/Barry Altschul) (5:25)
A3. A.R.C. (Chick Corea) (5:39)
B1. Vedana (David Holland) (7:35)
B2. Thanatos (Chick Corea) (4:30)
B3. Games (Chick Corea) (7:40)

The Players

Barry Altschul (percussion), Chick Corea (piano), David Holland (bass). Produced by Manfred Eicher; engineered by Kurt Rapp.

The Pictures

Cover design by B&B Wojirsch. Back cover liner notes by Chick Corea.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in February 1971 in the US and Germany (ECM, 1009-ST) and Japan (Polydor, MP 2192). Japanese version features unique cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and 8-track in 1977 in the US and Germany (ECM/Polydor, ECM/CT/8T-1-1009).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in Japan (Polydor, MPF 1133).
  3. Re-issued on cassette in Poland (F&R, ZAIKS BIEM 026).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc worldwide (ECM/Polygram, 833 678).
  5. Re-released on super high material compact disc on September 3, 2008 in Japan (ECM, UCCE-9140).
  6. Re-issued on SHMCD on April 8, 2015 in Japan (ECM, UCCE-9297).
  7. Re-released on super audio compact disc on September 6, 2017 in Japan (ECM, PROZ-1094).

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