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27 March 2011

Circle - 'Paris-Concert' (ECM)

For me, Chick Corea begin and ends with Circle - Paris-Concert -- no, wait, it begins here and ends with the ARC record, but I file that under 'Corea' and this one under 'Circle'. That's because I see this as an equal split between Braxton and Corea, I guess - though listening now, it's really an even split between all four members. Which makes the name Circle quite apt, though it may lead to confusion with the Finnish group. Side 1 is about as great as jazz can be, opening with Wayne Shorter's 'Nefertitti' and then merging into a solo bass composition by David Holland. They take Shorter's lyricism and open up the space between the notes, getting quite thick at times but never letting any party dominate things. Holland and Barry Altschul are really fluid together and they're each afforded moments to shine in a solo environment. Holland's piece, 'Song for the Newborn', is a beautiful, rolling tune. It's woody and cavernous, and attains a romantic edge; probably my favourite cut on the whole double LP, and one to put on mixtapes. This is a live recording so you can really feel the energy in the air; the fidelity is first rate, and there are times with Braxton's plastic reeds and the cello or bass bowing becoming difficult to distinguish, but it's a masterful groupthink with a sum more than its parts. Altschul's 'Lookout Farm' goes way beyond a drum solo, dancing around with a light touch. Corea's only real contribution, compositionally, is 'Duet' with Braxton (though given a more Braxtonian name on the LP's label), which blends into the drum solo; but his playing is stellar throughout, a post-Cecil manic edge undercut by billowing, Paul Bley-esque tone clouds. 'Duet' in particular takes on a shimmery atmosphere; it's spellbinding. Braxton of course contributes a strangely-named graphical score composition which feels midway between his late 60's Delmark AACM records and the more continental, music-hall feel of his mid-70s compositions. Which makes sense, cause this is 1971. The second LP consists of two side-long pieces, both ceaselessly flowing and expansive. Side 3 is a long piece composed by Holland which varies between call and response melodies and explosive free sections. There are passages where Braxton sits out and the trio lays a base, and his reeds feel more gentle than brassy. The fourth side, 'No Greater Love', is an opening of an old standard. By this point in the concert, the band has really established a rapport and the track swirls with energy. The chord changes are obviously rooted in a a jazz/blues tradition more than anything else we've heard in Paris - Concert, yet this doesn't hold back the explorations. Corea in particular shines here; he manages to play the role of the centre, while simultaneously breaking into some of the most divergent asides. According to the Internet, Circle actually put out six records in their very brief existence, but I've never heard any others. This one seems to show up a lot - it's certainly a popular title amongst my friends - but I'd be curious to hear what they could do in a studio.

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