Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Circle - 1971 - Circle 2: Gathering

Circle 2: Gathering

01. Gathering - Part I
02. Gathering - Part II

Bass, Cello, Guitar, Percussion – Dave Holland
Drums, Piano [Finger], Percussion – Barry Altschul
Piano, Flute [Bamboo], Percussion – Chick Corea
Reeds, Percussion – Anthony Braxton

Recorded May 17, 1971 at Upsurge Studio, NYC.

Circle was a band born in a pressure-cooker. During its brief existence (roughly mid-70 / mid-71), it played with an anarchic flair and a reckless drive, rare for that time. Chick Corea and Dave Holland were coming off a 2-year stay with Miles Davis, in which they were his first ever full-time white band members, amid the Black Power era. Driven by Jack DeJohnette, they took the music more out than at any time in Miles' life. Said Corea, "We kept pushing and playing free, waiting for Miles to say something about it. He never did, so we pushed harder". Said Miles of Corea, "Just look at the guy. Music is pouring out of him".

In May 1969, this trio had been the core of Corea's raucous "Is" sessions", (thankfully reissued properly in 2002 on a Blue Note 2CD). Hard blowing, uninterrupted, free-form, open-ended improvisations and compositions. Then, enter drummer Barry Altschul, a master of pulse and miniaturized mayhem on his carefully tuned percussion. A man who could float 60's Paul Bley on the most delicate of gauze, yet drive a powerful free-jazz quartet with the most minuscule of sounds. In April 70, the trio of Corea, Holland and Altschul recorded "The Song of Singing", a studio session which still rings with a freshness and an inherent energy which refute its years. August 70, while Corea and Holland were still Miles' sidemen, enter Anthony Braxton. Wildcard. A man with a musical conception which threatened never to allow him to be anyone's sideman, and the inventor of a musically philosophical verbal jargon understood by few members of the human race. But Circle was a co-operative band, and the four members adapted fast. The music which happened in the studio suggested serious connections to the European avant-garde or the modern classical of the time, as much as free jazz. Live, anything could happen.

Live performance was Circle's forte. The finest recorded evidence is the "Paris Concert" of 21 February 71, issued first as a 2LP, then 2CD, by ECM. A vivid, thorny, raw document of the band in full-flight, whether on standards such as Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" or on Holland's own intricate twinning of "Toy Room" and "Q&A". For those old enough to remember, in 1971 this was daring music.

Looking back, it was perhaps inevitable that this band would blow itself off the stage. Stories circulated of Corea breaking a glass onstage and rubbing the microphone into the shards, band-members taking to playing any instrument at random, Holland scraping the bass strings and his chest with the mic, much use of small percussion and, in the end, a sense of alienation took over. When the band finally ground to a halt, Corea said, "We were sending our audiences up the river… ". And thus the bubble burst.

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