ECM records is fifty years old. There’s a lot of reflection to be found and not a little fun with lists (my favourite ‘x’ – insert a manageable number – ECM albums). Two pieces that seem to cover the waterfront: an epic, near verbatim account of an evening with Manfred Eicher by AJ Dehaney on London Jazz News from a couple of years ago, and a post from Richard Williams on his Blue Moment site.
My own reflections were sparked by a weekend at this year’s London Jazz Festival. A series of gigs scheduled over the first weekend, concentrated on the Sunday, and a magical hour listening to Joe Lovano and Julia Hulsmann talk about their association with ECM, provided a full immersion experience (there’s a couple of my reviews on London Jazz News) Marcin Wasilewsky Trio and Jan Garbarek Group).
Two thoughts have stayed with me from that weekend alongside near sensory overload. The first, and obvious one, is how strong is the identity of ECM as something, albeit hard to pin down. And the second is how personal, individual and deeply felt the connection is with that ‘something’ for many people, be they the label’s artists or punters like me; witness the various lists and diversity of ‘favourites’.
Both themes emerged in the chat with Lovano and Hulsmann. Jane Cornwell’s opening gambit was ‘Is there an ECM sound?’ and she closed with ‘what are your favourite ECM recordings?’
The answer that emerged to the first was ‘it’s the sound of the musicians’, but there was absolutely no doubting the influence of producer and label chief Manfred Eicher and key sound engineers. Both musicians affirmed the challenge and insistence on going beyond what they thought was possible and bringing out something new in them that has come from Eicher. But those musicians sound like themselves. Lovano also captured something of the ethos as he reflected on the trio with Bill Frisell and Paul Motian. ‘We weren’t trying to play that music aggressively’. Lovano cited early ECM recordings as favourites (Jarrett’s Facing You, Dave Holland Conference of The Birds) Hulsmann more recent recordings (by Django Bates).
A quiet strength, a subtle but luminous beauty and the inevitable cliche ‘less is more’; these are all things I associate with the label. And constantly opening up unexpected and new sounds and musicians to me.
Favourites? I’ve got a few. Pianists – Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson, a series of Charles Lloyd albums, endless sublime Kenny Wheeler, the Peter Erskine Trio with John Taylor… Don’t let it stop.