Dodging Bricks and Scientologists

MUHAL, part 1
Creative Construction Company
CCC
Muse : 1976 (rec. 1970)

Anthony Braxton, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, contrabass clarinet, chimes; Leroy Jenkins, violin, viola, recorder, toy xylophone, harmonica, bicycle horn; Leo Smith, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn, seal horn, percussion; Muhal Richard Abrams, piano, cello, clarinet; Richard Davis, bass; Steve McCall, drums, percussion.

QUARTET PIECE NO. 3
Circle
Circulus
Blue Note : 1975 (rec. 1970)

Chick Corea, piano, prepared piano, vibraphone, percussion, bass marimba; Anthony Braxton, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Dave Holland, bass, guitar, percussion; Barry Altschul, drums, percussion, bass marimba.

UPDATE ON THE MOSAIC BOX SET CONTEST:

First things immediately – the contest to win “The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton” will now close on Saturday, October 11th at midnight, NYC time. So don’t wait too much longer to send us your answers to get in the drawing for this amazing set! Thanks so much to all who have entered so far, and for the kind words that often attach to the entries. See post below for more details.

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ANTHONY BRAXTON : THE COLLECTIVE YEARS

PART ONE: FIGHTING OFF THE BRICKS

While Braxton is best known as an iconoclastic solo artist, he was also involved in several notable collective groups early in his career. The criminally underknown Creative Construction Company was formed in 1969 while Braxton was an expatriate in Paris. This was a crazy, fertile time and place for avant jazz – see our recent BYG entry for more on that intriguing story.

On paper, the line-up for CCC is unbeatable. It’s an all-star AACM revue of fiery players and compelling composers, arguably even more impressive than the Art Ensemble. But at the time, none of those involved were particularly well-known, even within avant circles. This track bears witness the music’s visionary qualities, and the AACM’s commitment to exploring sonic space, unusual instrumentation, and true collaboration. It’s a Jenkins composition, and his voice is the most prominent — the harmonica is particually effective at cutting through — though just about everyone makes their way to the front. But the group didn’t go down well at the time, to put it mildly.

“One concert we were playing and people were throwing rocks at at us,” Braxton told Graham Lock in Forces in Motion. “Rocks and bricks. We were fighting off the bricks and still playing. One half of the crowd said ‘boo!,’ and the other half said ‘yah!'”

The verdict was that our music didn’t swing. It was viewed as cold, intellectual, borrowing from Europe or something. We were not acceptable African-Americans. This image would stay with me all my life – that being the concept of the intellectual separate from what the essence of Black African intellectualism should be. For instance, I never talked about my music being “Great Black Music,” I was more interested in world music but this was not fashionable. Any talk of universality was viewed as possibly disloyal to Africa. And among the white community, musicians like myself were seen as somehow trying to imitate something we were not.

Ah, the old double bind. CCC played around Paris for a year and then broke up. Sadly, the group’s only records (that we know of) are two live documents, recorded in New York on the same May day, which remain out of print.

PART TWO: DIGGING THE THETANS

In the early 1970s, Braxton was living with Ornette Coleman and licking his wounds from his bruising Paris experience. One night he sat in with Chick Corea’s trio with Holland and Atschul. The chemistry was immediately apparent and soon they were a group: Circle. One of the most underrated ensembles of the decade. “They changed my life and gave me a new start and new hope for my life,” Braxton recalls. “I’ll always be grateful.”

The group is best known for Circle: Paris Concert, a wonderful double-disc set that’s intermittently in-print through ECM. We’re showcasing a rarer outing for the group – a Blue Note session from 1970 that only saw the light of day midway through the decade on a vault-clearing two-fer. It’s a mighty weird tune, truly experimental. Scrabbly lines from Braxton eventually give way to an open clearing that’s heavy on the atmospheric, side-show percussive elements, before closing out with a taut, noisy march. And before you rush off to the comments, we know it was officially released under Chick Corea’s name. We consider it a bona fide Circle effort nonetheless.

Not as many people are familiar with the adventurous early part of Chick Corea’s career, but listening to the side leading up to Circle it’s no surprise he would form an artistic bond with Braxton. So what changed him? Scientology, y’all. An interesting side note is that everyone in Circle joined L. Ron Hubbard’s crew. While Corea became obsessed with it, the others quickly lost interest. “I found Scientology very interesting, especially some of the techniques they developed for having people brainwash themselves,” Braxton says. “But this was not what I wanted to be part of.”

“Chick was becoming interested in what he called music that communicated,” Braxton continues. “The Scientology people told us that if we stayed together and altered our music a bit – you know, played something a little more commercial – they could make us millionaires. They did it too for Chick: After we split, he formed Return to Forever and made a ton of money.”

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STAY TUNED: Later this week, the Braxton blogothon continues with links, videos, and other goodies to further your Braxton appreciation.

Discussion15 Comments Category Anthony Braxton

15 Responses to Dodging Bricks and Scientologists

  1. Good posting, once again. I’ve always had an interest in the exact nature of Corea’s early involvement in scientology. He had such great recorded output before he converted–the ‘lost quintet,’ IS, Joe Farrell quartet, ARC, Circle of course, etc. The first return to forever was good in a cheesy breezy sort of way, mostly cause of the other musicians involved and the time period, but then…jesus. Hymn of the seventh vulcan romantic warrior galaxy?? what happened chick, what happened. or rather; what happened L. Ron, what happened. Oh yeah, you were an insane meglomaniac sociopath hellbent on making fortunes through black magic. ANYWAY apparently he later briefly converted Lee Konitz, but he left because it was getting expensive (the core of the faith) and how the fuck is Lee Konitz going to ‘communicate’ more with his music to make millions? “Return to TristanoLand??” The thought of it conjures an Ian Mckaye interview where he recalls his longtime auto mechanic remarking, after seeing Fugazi on some bullshit VH1 list of greatest hard rock bands, “wow, looks like you guys are finally going somewhere!” all he could do was chuckle. must have been somewhere in the ballpark of how braxton felt when the scientology higher ups tried to convince him to change his music. (imagine braxton considering, even for half a damn second, changing his music in the slightest way. now THATS an unfunny joke if i ever heard one)

  2. oh, by the way. FUCK chick corea.

  3. May as well make it an even three. Can anyone explain and/or translate that cartoon at the top?

  4. “CCC played around Paris for a year and then broke up. Sadly, the group’s only records (that we know of) are two live documents, recorded in New York on the same May day, which remain out of print.”

    Well, not quite:
    McCall would join Braxton, violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Leo Smith in a quartet sometimes called the “Anthony Braxton Quartet” or the “Creative Construction Company.”
    So “Creative Construction Company” also refers to the group on the two studio recordings for BYG under Braxton’s name (Anthony Braxton & This Time).
    In fact, just before bringing up the “rocks and bricks” in that Lock interview, Braxton confirms that CCC broke up in Paris. The NY concert was a one-time reunion — and it was later that very evening when Braxton (& Jack DeJohnette) first sat in with the Corea/Holland/Altschul trio.

  5. Brilliant, Jason. Thanks, as ever, for the great clarification.

  6. Oh, what the hell, I’ll bite. Because of the fuzziness on the left and my own limitations, I can’t quite make out what Chick is saying, but…

    Caption on top says, “Chick Corea with Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton formed a band called Circle, spreading the free jazz faction’s performances,” something like that.

    Dave says, “Make use of new music’s free jazz.”

    Like I said, I can’t make all the words Chick says, something about the “flavor of free jazz.”

    Long haired person in lower left hand corner says “Wah!”

    The piano says “bi li li,” which is some sort of onomatopoetic music sound.

    Two audience members on the bottom left say, “No matter what age, freedom is always chaotic again,” something like that.

  7. That last one would be bottom right.

    Sorry that all came out all Chinglishy, btw, that’s just what happens if you translate accurately.

  8. Sorry, sorry, that should have been “modern music’s new free jazz,” under Dave.

    Now I’m done.

  9. I lied…how ’bout “made the free jazz faction’s performances more widespread” in the caption? That sounds better and gets in the comparative I’d left out. I hate translating. Now I’m done.

  10. I’ve been a fan of Braxton’s for awhile now. I first got into avant-garde/free jazz as an undergraduate student at Wesleyan University (’89-’93). Mr. Braxton joined Wesleyan’s faculty during this time. I later went on to do my master’s thesis on the AACM. Along the way I picked up a few choice gems. I have all of the Braxton Arista LPs except the multi-orchestra box. It’s very cool that you’re focusing on his music. Back in the day, info about Mr. Braxton was hard to come by. It’s great to see people are still enthused about his work. Have you heard these other amazing Braxton/Corea/Circle records:

    Chick Corea – “Circling In” (Blue Note, recorded ’68, ’70; released’75)(Braxton’s only on 1 LP of this 2-LP set)
    Circle – “Live In German Concert” (CBS/Sony Japan, recorded ’70; released ‘7?)
    Anthony Braxton w/ Chick Corea – “Europa” (Piccadilly, recorded ’71; released ’80)

    Other great/obscure Braxton records in my collection I’d love to see you discuss are:

    Anthony Braxton – “Creative Music Orchestra” (Ring 3-LP box-set, recorded ’72, released ‘7?)
    Anthony Braxton/Szabados Gyorgy – “Szabraxtondos” (Artisjus, recorded ’84, released ’85)
    the opera CD box-set released on Braxton House records.

  11. I got it!!! Chick says, “Let everybody taste the strange flavor of free jazz.”

    Sorry, hard for me to let this kind of think go once it starts poking at me.

  12. “Let everybody taste the strange flavor of free jazz.”
    There’s your new D:o motto.

  13. OK, I want, no I need, this cartoon on a t-shirt, headlined
    “Let everyone taste the strange flavor of free jazz!” and “Freedom is Always Chaotic!”

    Also, if anyone’s working on it, I’d also like one with Roland Kirk playing at least 3 horns, captioned “Listen With All Your Might!”

  14. You, know, I was so focused on decyphering those blotches that I missed that it’s clearly meant as a little parable about Chinese history. I’m a little curious to know about the source. The traditional characters indicate it’s probably from Taiwan.

  15. I actually used to have a Kirk-playing-3-saxophones T-shirt that I sent away for out of an ad in Downbeat, although his name was spelled “Rashaan” on it.

    Um, anyway, I thought I’d just clarify what I was just thinking: the thing about chaos would be a reference to the idea, which would probably be familiar to any Chinese schoolboy or girl, that throughout its history, China has alternated between periods of stability and chaos…Actually I just googled the Chinese phrase, and apparently it’s from Mencius ?Mengzi): “A long time has elapsed since this world of men received its being, and there has been along its history now a period of good order, and now a period of confusion.” Well, live and learn.

    Anyways, it occurred to me that some of the odd phrases, “free jazz factions,” “make use of modern music’s new free jazz” are deliberately, if vaguely political, and it seems that “free jazz” is standing in for freedom, or liberalism ?“freedom idea” in Chinese). Dunno if the cartoonist had anything more specific in mind than that, but I’m thinking probably not.

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