Sunday, July 01, 2007













In the spring of 1975, I was walking around downtown Boston when I was stopped by an attractive young woman holding a clipboard. "Hi! Do you have a few minutes to take an interesting survey?" Well, I wasn't doing anything in particular and she was cute. "What's the survey about?" "It's kind of a personality questionnaire. It'll only take about ten minutes." I said OK and was then informed the survey would be administered in a nearby house. Slightly more dubious, I nonetheless followed the young thing a couple blocks to a very nice, old townhouse in the Back Bay section.

I was given the test, several pages of questions regarding personal affinities and so forth, iirc graded on a 1-5 scale. I handed it in when finished and was asked to stick around for the results which were relayed to me by some guy, the winsome lass having departed to ensnare other unwitting dupes. I don't recall the specifics of my result other than their purported finding that my sense of humor was lacking (*sputter!*) but it was only after going over the details that the person let on that what I was being "tested" for was admittance into the hallowed halls of Scientology. Aw, crap.

Now, this was 1975 and L. Ron Hubbard's brainchild wasn't quite the sensation it developed into by the 80s. Celebrity cretins like Cruise and Travolta weren't involved with it, etc. In fact, I only associated one name with the cult...The guy says, "I notice on your list of things you enjoy that you mentioned jazz. Have you ever heard of Chick Corea?" "In fact," I said, "Corea's name was the only one I really connected with Scientology and I have to say, ever since he became affiliated with it, the quality of his music has deteriorated drastically." With that (or, likely, more awkwardly phrased words to that effect) I took my leave.

Within a couple of years, I'd divested myself of virtually every recording I owned that featured Corea's unsavory presence. When I learned a bit more about Scientology, I had a real strong, gut reaction against its precepts (even more than most religions!) and found its practitioners to be a sickening combination of loathsome and cynical. So out went the other Corea ECMs: the two volumes of Piano Improvisations, the previous Circle disc (A.R.C.--didn't realize the Scientological component before!--with Holland and Altschul), the first three Return to Forever's (the ECM and "Light as a Feather", arguably both good music as well as "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" [gah!], a piece of dreck), and earlier Corea outings like "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs", "Is" and "Inner Space". I just couldn't stand having anything of his around, though he was still there as a sideman on things like Miles'.

The sole exception was Circle's "Paris Concert" and that only because of the presence of Braxton. Up to now, I file it under Braxton, actually. And I'm glad I didn't toss it because, stink of Corea aside, it's a very, very good recording. Corea of course is fine here, my prejudices notwithstanding; all four members are in top form. I often have some trouble with Altschul, finding him to be generally overbusy and there's some of that, though his percussion feature, "Lookout Farm", is rather impressive. But it's Holland and Braxton who steal the show. The former's "Q & A", which would be reprised the following year on "Conference of the Birds", is a wonderful hide 'n' seek piece, a fine balance between the Bailey-esque music Holland had been playing and the theme-driven work he'd settle into.

They do a rocking rendition of Shorter's "Nefertitti" [sic] as well as closing out with "No Greater Love". At the time, it was a bit shocking to hear Braxton waxing so romantic! Little did we know....

Strong concert, worth hearing. On purely musical grounds, I've surely shortchanged Corea, at least up to 1972 or so, but my conscience is clearer. For all I know, Jerry Falwell might've been a fine improvising musician as well but unless there's some oop duo with Rowe hanging around somewhere....

I wanted to note in passing another nostalgic fact: The smell of the original ECM pressings. Very unique and heady and still manifest 30+ years later! Not sustained when Polydor began printing the albums for US consumption. Mmmmm....ECM smell......

















btw, there's an Arista album whose recording dates slightly precede this one (February, 1971), "The Complete Braxton 1971", a double LP issued in 1977. Hard to imagine as it may be today, there was a time when a Braxton album was a rare thing, especially in US stores. Aside from "For Alto", almost nothing was around until Arista's spate beginning in '75. This one's pretty fascinating, not the least because it fills in a pre-Arista gap and demonstrates that the ideas that, as far as most people were concerned, including myself, appeared to have sprung forth fully formed in "New York, Fall, 1974", had been gestating for several years. Three tracks with the Wheeler/Holland/Altschul quartet, two duos with Corea, an over-tracked solo sopranino piece, a solo contrabass clarinet number and a work for the London Tuba Ensemble. Worth the hunt for a Braxophile.

11 comments:

Richard Pinnell said...

That's a great story Brian, thanks.

Just how ancient are you though when way back in '75 you were able to think of cute women as "young things?!!!"

Robert Gable said...

I was just a naive teen at the time so I had no idea about the significance of Scientology. But I will admit that I loved RTF's Where Have I Known You Before (and of course the first RTF album with Joe Farrell) but Circle made no sense to me.

Now I will need to track down the latter to see if 30 years of experience has made a difference for me. Thanks for the reminder.

Brian Olewnick said...

Hi Robert,

I'm not sure how I'd react to the first two WTF albums now. As is often oddly the case, I can hear parts of them in my head with what seems to me to be amazing exactitude, "Sometime Ago", for instance. I'm guessing I'd find them pleasant but not especially interesting. And once Bill Connors joined, well, it's then gone beyond my range of interest.

I bet the earlier, pre-Circle things hold up pretty well though, the stuff that originally came out on Solid State, iirc.

Not knowing your musical history, I don't imagine things like the Shorter piece or "No Greater Love" would cause much trouble; the other tracks could prove gnarlier.

Jon said...

WTF indeed. :)

Robert, if you haven't heard it already, you should check Dave Holland-Conference of the Birds, the same quartet with Sam Rivers instead of Corea, and a way more successful record (and I know one of Mr. O.'s faves). FWIW, I never liked Corea much in any incarnation, I didn't know he was a Scientologist until decidedly later.

Richard Harland Smith said...

"Stink of Corea" would be a great band name.

peter breslin said...

Hi- I only have one of the two records of the Circle LP, the one with No Greater Love and Toy Room/Q&A, because once in a fury of some sort (I think of utter exasperation and annoyance at Barry Altschul) I threw the other platter across the room and enjoyed the sound of its obliging shatter. I was maybe 17 or 18. I don't remember exactly what infuriated me so much then but it was probably the jittery, scritchety, thwappity rustling *cuteness* and *cleverness* of Altschul's form of "free jazz" drumming.

It wasn't Corea, oddly. Now it can be. There's a video on YouTube of Braxton playing Impressions with Jack DeJohnette on drums, Miroslav Vitous on bass and Corea on piano that wisely ends as Corea's spritely and precious solo starts chirping.

PB

Brian Olewnick said...

Heh, and I thought I might have been over-reacting....

I admit, there were a handful of times when I saw Altschul live during the late 70s where I felt a bit like picking him up bodily and bouncing him off a wall if it would get him to settle down a little.

vxvashan@gmail.com said...

Hey I bought tha album Cirle paris Concert in 75 or something like tha and it totally messed me up. I became a Holland groupie finding anything I could . I then stumbled upon Conferece of the Birds and laost it anyway these albums and otheres such as ARC all of braxtons output totally transformed me as a musician. I recently downloaded the Circle Paris Concert and it was rather nostolgic and to me funny how short all the pieces are.It stilll holds together after all these years.I did later study for a brief time with Dave Holland and it was a huge transformation for me. At that time i was looking to study with Buster Williams, George Mraz and Ron carter but Dave was very gracious and took me in.

Yours truly
Anthony Cox

vxvashan@gmail.com said...

hey all sorry about that spelling. I do know how to spell sometimes but i am tired and I cannot type.

Anthony Cox

vxvashan@gmail.com said...

Oh by the way does anybody know how I can obtain some of the Arista recordings of Braxton like the big band recordings. I do have a damaged recording of fall 1974. would like to obtain cd's if possible.

Anthony

Brian Olewnick said...

Good to see you here, Anthony.

Aside from the recent Mosaic box, I don't know of other Braxton things currently available on disc from that time. Though there's that great 1976 concert on New Tone--not sure it's still in print.