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.