Here is an excerpt from the current draft of my new book, “Gestures, textures, open spaces: Chick Corea’s Circle, new creative venues and openings to the musical 1970s.” The topic will be obvious. Here’s just a small snapshot.
The founding moment of Circle happened by chance. On May 19, 1970, Anthony Braxton played a concert at the “Peace Church” near Washington Park, in New York’s Greenwich Village. The concert featured an expansion of the group with which he had often played in Europe, the Creative Construction Company: Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Leo Smith & Steve McCall. Except for McCall, they had all played on played on Braxon’s “3 Compositions of New Jazz” . Special guests included Richard Davis and AACM cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams. Most of these people were affiliated with the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
The same evening, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul were playing a show at the Village Vanguard, a prominent jazz club located several blocks to the west. The trio was playing opposite Roy Haynes’s band, which included Freddie Hubbard.
In the audience for the Braxton performance was Jack DeJohnette, Corea and Holland’s former Miles Davis band mate and who knew Braxton from Wilson Junior College. DeJohnette suggested that they head over to the Vanguard; Braxton also wanted to hear Haynes. Concert organizer Kunle Mganga recounts: “after we did that concert we all went down to the Vanguard where Chick Corea and them were playing and Braxton sat in with them. That’s when that connection was made with Anthony to deal with Circle.” [Panken 1994 interview] As Barry Altschul puts it: “Then Chick invited him up to play.” Braxton sat in and Circle was on its way.
Barry Altschul recalls that after the Vanguard show, “Braxton and Chick started playing chess together. They’re both way into chess. So I don’t know what kind of conversations they got into while they were playing, but, then Chick brought the idea that Anthony join the group, that is the way I remember it.” [Gluck interview] Chess was at the time a central part of Braxton’s life, as he has recounted: “The beauty of chess for me is that it gives a wonderful opportunity to look at structure and relationships, and intentions, and target strategies, and the relationship between target strategies and variables and objectives, and fulfilling objectives. The beauty of chess also extends into physics and pressures … As far as I’m concerned, chess demonstrates everything.” [Ted Panken 1995 interview]
Corea continues the narrative: “I remember Dave bringing Anthony to the loft to meet me and play. It was an instant match.” [Gluck 2011 interview] Holland adds: “Anthony came over to talk to us and so we got together a few days later and did a few gigs. We did a concert in Baltimore… the music was so strong… we did a lot of playing in the loft that Chick had and the first music we played was very experimental. We really just opened that up, we just broke down all the barriers and said OK, ‘we’ll just play with any sounds that we can find’. We used things from the kitchen, and bellows and shouting and singing and whistling, we did all kinds of things, just to find out how far we could take it. And then it started to get more defined. We started to try and get a bit more precision into the music.” [Bill Smith 1973 interview] Corea sums up the results: “Anthony brought a 4th dimension to the band and, a compositional/improvisational approach that gave us more material to work with along with the compositions that Dave and I were bringing in.”
Corea, Holland, and Altschul, however were just coming into their own as a unit of three. Altschul observes: “Deep down inside I would have liked for the trio to stay together a little bit longer. As a trio. I loved Circle, but I was finding another place, kind of, during the trio thing, and I just really wanted to continue with that for a little more. It worked out fine [as Circle!].” Corea, Holland, and Altschul recorded one further trio album in January 1971, in the midst of an active period for Circle. The famous Paris Concert was recorded February 21, 1971, three months before its demise.
The trio actually began as a duo, while Chick Corea and Dave Holland were members of the Miles Davis electric “Lost Quintet,” the touring ensemble at the core of the album “Bitches Brew.” “Dave Holland and I began to play together as a duet in my loft. I had brought from Boston the Steinway S that my mother and father bought for me when I was 16 years old.” [Neimeier interview]…
[An extensive discussion of the original trio, and the recording “The Song of Singing” is then followed by narrative and musical discussion of the first Circle recording sessions]…
Two sets of brief duo improvisations were recorded during the Quartet’s first, August 13, recording session. The first pair was played by the original duo of Chick Corea and Dave Holland. The second set, by Anthony Braxton and Chick Corea, were titled “Danse For Clarinet and Piano” (No. 1 and 2). These were all released on the recording “Circling In.” The latter duets immediately make clear the terms of engagement for the new group: open improvisation, changing moods, stylistic diversity, at times one approach immediately following another, a range of approaches to tonality and atonality, textural variety, and the use of extended performance techniques…