Circles is the second album pianist Marilyn Crispell recorded for the label Disques Victo. After the solo LP Labyrinths, she presented her quintet: Oliver Lake and Peter Buettner on saxophones, regular partners Reggie Workman on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums. This concert recorded at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in October 1990 featured a cycle of four compositions bearing liturgical or initiatory titles: "Rituel," "Sorrow," "Circles," and "Chant." The Crispell/Workman/Hemingway unit is tightly locked, but strangely it is the two saxophonists who inherited most of the melodies. "Rituel" begins on a slow free improvisational crescendo. It turns into cathartic mayhem before a compositional structure becomes apparent. The other pieces are more restrained and planned, showing Crispell's taste for the romantically solemn. "Chant" is built on a short leitmotiv reiterated by the saxes throughout the ten minutes or so of the piece. The saxophones are not well integrated in the process: they feel superimposed, as if their inclusion had been an afterthought. Workman's double bass is badly recorded: when plucked it disappears into the mix, when bowed it lacks body. Placed at the center of the stereo spectrum, it sounds like an annoying bee, which is a shame since the bassist delivers a good solo at the beginning of "Chant." Circles has its moments, but it stands far from Crispell's best efforts.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture