Chick Corea Quartet Conducts Experiment

by Leonard Feather, Times Staff Writer
[originally published in The Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1970, p. F11]

It's workshop time at the Lighthouse. The experiments in the Hermosa Beach club are being conducted by Circle, a group also known as the Chick Corea Quartet.

Caveat emptor: this is not music for casual listening. To this reviewer it was alternately a fascinating, hypnotic experience and an enervating, chaotic drag. It involves tight interaction and intuitive communication among the musicians and must inevitably demand, on the part of the audience, a totally open-minded effort to relate to what is going on.

The participants in the freedom-music voyages sometimes give the impression that their products are streams of random notes and sounds created by men who, asked to play a basic blues, would be stripped of their Emperors' clothes. Circle, however, involves four performers whose qualifications are beyond cavil.

Dozen Doubles

Corea is at the piano, Dave Holland plays bass (both of them recently left Miles Davis), Barry Altschul is the drummer and Tony Braxton plays alto sax. There are, in addition, at least a dozen doubles from musette (Corea) to amplified cello (Holland) to contrabass clarinet (Braxton) to African pentatonic xylophone (Altschul).

Tempos speed up or slow down, forms shift, moods change, on a spur-of-the-moment basis. Nothing is planned beyond the opening and closing thematic statement. The Corea diplomats are harbingers of a new form, a synthesis of jazz and classical disciplines. They have moved beyond chords, beyond modes, into the farthest reaches of atonality. Only one number I heard, Holland's "Toy Room," had a definite, tonal melody in the traditional sense. This was quickly dispensed with as the musicians moved farther and farther out in their explorations.

Holland is a fantastic musician whose technique and rapid-fire solo ideation would seem hardly credible to Pablo Casals, could such a confrontation be arranged. Corea, who spends part of his time trying out various mallets on the strings of the piano, is more impressive when he unleashes fountains of phrases from the keyboard itself.

Odd Objects

Altschul at times revealed that he was capable of swinging forcefully in the jazz sense. As often as not he devoted his time to finding odd objects from which to elicit odd, irregular sounds: an egg beater, a flexatone (child's hand-held pitch modulator) and a long, pink, curved piece of plastic which whistled when whirled around in the air.

Braxton, except for a few impressionistic, sylvan moments on the flute, was an enigma. Compared to him Coltrane would sound like Freddy Martin. Undoubtedly the sounds that seemed ugly and freakish to me were quite meaningful to others, particularly his colleagues.

The Corea combo represents a direction that is gaining both in momentum and validity on the new music scene. It will be happening at the Lighthouse through Oct. 11 (dark Monday).