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.
The recordings. Shamefully Blue Note has not issued on CD much of the band's first recorded session with Braxton, 21 August 70, (which appeared on the "Circulus" 2LP under Corea's name), whereas much of the October 70 session (originally issued as "Circling In" also under Corea's name) has appeared on the "Early Circle" CD. In January 71, the trio without Braxton recorded the superbly crisp "A.R.C." in a German studio. Mysteriously, two other Circle LP's were issued only in Japan, one a German concert of 28 November 70, the other a New York studio session from 17 March 71. An excerpt also exists of a heated concert given in Bergamo on 19 March 71.
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.
But here's the band, very much alive and well in Hamburg in early March 1971, courtesy of NDR German radio. With humble thanks to the unknown recordist / source, may you enjoy.
Circle - Live at the Jazzhaus, Hamburg
3 or 4 or 5 March 1971
Anthony Braxton - alto saxophone, sopranino saxophone, clarinet, flute
Chick Corea - piano
Dave Holland - bass
Barry Altschul - drums, percussion
1. Composition 6A - 23:17 (Anthony Braxton)
2. Rhymes - 08:10 (Chick Corea)
3. Toy Room - 07:30 (Dave Holland)
4. Q & A - 11:04 (Dave Holland)
5. Composition 6I - 22:57 (Anthony Braxton)
6. Composition 6F - 10:25 (Anthony Braxton)
7. There Is No Greater Love - 25:03 (Marty Symes, Isham Jones)
Recorded and broadcast by NDR - Norddeutscher Rundfunk.
Discographical information from Circle Discography: http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Corea/circle-disc.htm