Pat Metheny has remarked that this is an important album in the Group's history for a number of reasons, among them being that the Group's core lineup on the album remained unchanged for over 15 years and it was the final Group album released on the ECM record label. While Metheny has expressed that he has no negativity toward ECM, he has stated that their recording policy was very stringent:
"You recorded for two days, you mixed for a day, that was your record. For better or for worse, whether you liked it or not, that was your record."
Nevertheless, Metheny has stated that "First Circle" vastly expanded the scope of the Group's music. In a podcast retrospective, he remarked that the album brought the Group to a creative high that he had been seeking since its foundation, and further stated that "First Circle", "Still Life (Talking)", and "Letter from Home", arguably the Group's most popular albums, were connected by their distinctive musical explorations and accessibly melodic personalities.
Of note on the album proper is the peculiar opener "Forward March". Sounding like a children's concert band's first practice together, the piece, which features keyboardist Lyle Mays on trumpet, uses many dissonant, out-of-tune chords and notes, along with shifting time signatures. On using it as the opener, Pat Metheny has since remarked that it "seemed like a good idea at the time."