Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul - A.R.C.

In the early months of 1971, a groundbreaking collaboration unfolded on the hallowed grounds of ECM Records. Chick Corea, a master of the keys, joined forces with the visionary bassist Dave Holland, extending their shared creative journey after a tenure with the legendary Miles Davis. As the world thirsted for novel sonic frontiers, Corea aptly summarized the era's ethos: "the atmosphere seemed charged with desire for new sounds and new ways." The result? An album of profound significance that embodied this very spirit aptly named "A.R.C." (known as: Affinity, Reality and Communication).

The stage was set with a trio of unparalleled talents. Corea's fingers danced across the keys with unparalleled dexterity, his chemistry with Holland ever so clearly etched from their shared musical journey. Completing this triumvirate was Barry Altschul, whose drumming chops had been finely honed with Paul Bley’s group. Together, they embarked on an auditory adventure that would leave a mark on the annals of modern jazz history.

This is just one of several more resilient restorations that have been completed by ECM Records, ushering in a new era of hi-res reissues. Long-time collectors are very familiar with the care the label has given to each of its releases which were initially available on quiet vinyl. The reissues meticulously preserve the analog stereo master tapes, and the A.R.C. transfer was delicately completed by mastering engineer Christoph Stickel's capable hands, which serves as the foundation for this auditory reawakening. With no intrusive de-noising or alteration, the original sonic aura is captured in outstanding 96kHz/24-bit clarity.

The album opens with a riveting rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," a spellbinding invocation that kicks off the sonic expedition led by Corea’s vivacious playing. Unlike current day recordings, the grand piano is direct and immediately present, filled simply with the close nature of the room. The trio's synergy is palpable, each note interlocking in a harmonious dance of creativity. Drums are brilliant and vibrant with the hi-hat sparkling from the left channel and the upright bass driving toward the right. As the album unfolds, a dichotomy emerges – flashes of brilliance juxtaposed with moments that seem to dissipate as swiftly as they ignite.

The heart of "A.R.C." lies in its embodiment of intuitive exploration. Corea, Holland, and Altschul channel their inspiration, communication, and reaction into a symphony of audacious improvisation. The album's very title is a nod to the principles of Affinity, Reality, and Communication - a profound glimpse into the trio's artistic mindset. This all leads to wonderful dynamics that I believe supersede what audiophiles had heard when playing the original pressings.

The trio’s interplay is tantalizingly tangled as they defy the convention of rhythm on "Ballad for Tillie", morphing into a musical entity that drags itself across the auditory landscape, leaving a trail of curiosity in its wake. The bass is poignant, balancing perfectly with the vibrant piano and distinct drums. The channel separation is excellent, with very good imaging that is a nod to the original talents of the audio engineers back in the day.

Arriving at the spontaneous title track, one may think of kids tossing sand in a sandbox or piling atop one another to gain higher footing. Amidst a rhythmical escapade punctuated by Altschul's entrancing drum solo, the stereo field spreads beyond the limits of the left and right channels, creating an extremely wide soundscape that is crisp and deep.

At this point vinyl listeners would be flipping over to the second side which takes listeners on a journey from the soothing embrace of "Vedana" to the bewildering odyssey of "Thanatos." This latter piece, a curious concoction of improvised discord, is sure to surprise and confound, with possibly what is the longest fade in and fade out for a song, leaving the unsuspecting listener double-checking their audio equipment. Once again, this unusual use of dynamics imparts the aural magnificence of the high-resolution audio format.

Drawing a parallel to the abstract paintings of Jackson Pollock, "A.R.C." is akin to an auditory canvas that slowly reveals its intricacies over time. Just as a room filled with Pollock's art can evoke a shifting perspective, Corea, Holland, and Altschul craft an album that requires attentive engagement, offering rewards to those who are willing to immerse themselves in its avant-garde sonic tapestry.

For contemporary jazz enthusiasts, there is much more to discover at ECM Records. I simply selected this specific album to review as I am a long-time fan of Chick Corea. The palette of styles in the ECM catalogue is varied, with some albums closer to the edges of classical and others falling into the fusion jazz-rock camp. The label has been in the process of reissuing their vast back catalogue, so to keep up to date on these audiophile reissues, visit their new hi-res releases page. 

Also, many of these titles are available for streaming in lossless quality at Apple Music, Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music and Presto Music. Sill while the convenience of streaming is clear, and the overall sound quality very good, there are discernible differences that only lead back to obtaining the hi-res download. I easily noticed that the imaging was a bit fuzzy and that a veil had been placed over the highest highs, which in turn quashed the spark of the hi-hat and cymbals and resilient strike of the keys. Thus, I strongly recommend previewing the ECM albums through your preferred streaming service, and in turn obtaining the hi-res download of the albums that become music to your ears. Yes, that truly could be every one of them!

 Format Info

96kHz / 24-bit Stereo hi-res download.  Also available via popular streaming sites. Previously released on CD and Vinyl.



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 About the Author

Wesley Derbyshire Profile Image

Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.


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