This collection of tunes was met with some cynicism when it was released back in 1979. It seemed to many fans that Columbia was just digging through their vaults and trying to make a few more bucks off of Miles while he was still in his 1970s retirement. I didn’t pay much attention to this release when it first came out, but I’m glad I gave “Circle in the Round” a second chance because some of the best music in Miles’ career is on here, especially if you like his odd experimental numbers.
Fans of Miles’ 50s hard bop sound tend to have high regard for the first three cuts on CD one: “Two Bass Hit” has a lengthy solo from Coltrane, “Love for Sale” features Miles’ famous sextet blowing off some steam with great solos all round, especially Bill Evans with his bizarre rhythmic juxtapositions, and “Blues No 2”, which features a spontaneous rhythm battle between Miles and Philly Joe who was just sitting in. This first CD closes with the title cut, which is one of the odder cuts that Miles’ famous second quintet ever produced. Recorded during the time when Miles and his crew were making brilliant experimental albums such as “Sorcerer” and “Nefertiti”, “Circle” adds Joe Beck on guitar to the usual quintet. During this entire lengthy cut, Beck maintains a tambura like hypnotizing pulse on just two or three notes, while Tony Williams plays freely and Miles and Shorter play somber melodies and finally a few solos. If you like this sort of experimentation, this cut is invaluable.
The second CD continues with more from the second quintet, now playing in a more free and aggressive style. The second version of “Side Car” features George Benson on guitar. There are only a few recordings of Benson with Miles’ quintet, which makes those recordings all the more valuable because they always show an extra creative side to Benson’s always brilliant and under-stated guitar work. Things get more quiet and mysterious again, when the quintet plus Benson, take on all the subtle complicated changes and structures of Wayne Shorter’s “Sanctuary”. If you are only familiar with the more simple and expressionistic versions of this tune on “Bitches Brew” or “Live at Fillmore”, you are in for a very interesting surprise. This original studio version is full of unexpected harmonic changes and twists of logic that get lost on later more rockin versions. The final cut on this CD features one of Miles psychedelic bands from “Big Fun” playing a lengthy version of Crosby/Nash's séance like “Guinnevere”. If you enjoy similar proto-dub style cuts like “He Loved Him Madly”, then you know what to expect from this attempt to warp time and space.
Every song on here is excellent, but the totally one-of-a-kind tone to songs like “Circle in the Round”, “Sanctuary” and “Guinnevere” make this CD package a must have for fans of Miles’ mid 60s to early 70s experiments.