Record Shopping at Home: Circle’s Paris-Concert

I went record shopping Friday after work. It had been a really sucky week so I needed to treat myself. In the used jazz section I found a copy of Paris Concert by Circle (Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul). I was stoked. I was certain I didn’t own it. But I thought there was a chance I might. Luckily my wife’s schedule was different and she was home instead of teaching. So I texted her to see if I already had it. Yup, turns out I did. I had bought it years ago from my favorite store in the last city we lived. (One of the cool things about that store was for every LP with Braxton on it they’d add a sticker below the price/condition with a little note.) It’s a good thing I checked with my wife. I paid a paltry $6 for mine. The one I saw at the record store on Friday was in the same condition, but it was $14.95.

After having been reminded I already owned the album I figured I had better listen to it. Its escape from my memory needed rectifying, especially since it’s a great album. So as the sticker indicated, I sat back and went into space.

Yup, my fuzzy recollection of the record was right: it’s burning. And for an avant garde record, especially one with Braxton on it, it’s relatively accessible (For Alto it ain’t). There’s quite a bit of variation too, both in material and style, so it’s not like sitting through an hour of nonstop, in your face, free jazz blowout. It’s a spacious record, with plenty of breathing room. It opens with Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti,” which features a furiously burning Braxton. “Duet” is a piece for Braxton and Corea, and “Lookout Farm” is a measured and expertly constructed drum solo that introduces Braxton’s tumbling, angular, and somewhat manic “73 degrees Kelvin (Variation – 3)” (Holland’s pizz cello solo is particularly captivating).

Side 3 features Holland’s composition “Toy Room – Q & A.” It’s an interesting mix of Corea’s impressionistic piano, brief pseudo-pointillistic chamber improv, Braxton’s somewhat surprisingly melodic flute solo, and a ridiculous hookup between Holland and Altschul, both of whom are highly active, yet don’t overwhelm the solosists. The performance has a lovely narrative structure in which textures and moods and timbres and soloists come and go. Circle tells one hell of a tale.

While one might not expect to see a standard here, Paris-Concert closes with a 17 minute workout of “No Greater Love.”

I’m kind of shocked I forgot about this album, and not just because it has four of my favorite musicians, but because it’s really really good. It’s a perfect reminder of how great, captivating, and musical avant garde jazz can be.

Sometimes the best record shopping is going through your own collection, digging up albums you forgot you had or haven’t listened to in ages. And bonus, it doesn’t cost a thing.

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