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2010-12-24

ECM

Founded by producer Manfred Eicher in 1969, ECM has issued over a thousand albums spanning many idioms. After establishing an early reputation with standard-setting jazz recordings by Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and others, ECM began to include contemporary composition in its programme in the late 1970s. Eicher’s own background, as a musician active in both jazz and classical music, provided an unusually broad vantage point from which to survey the genres, and the producer has been credited with helping to bring form to improvised music and a sense of ‘improvisational’ flexibility to recordings of contemporary composition.

ECM New Series was launched in 1984 to introduce the music of Arvo Pärt with the highly influential “Tabula rasa”. The label has continued to issue premiere recordings of Pärt’s works, including the recent “In principio”. Other regularly featured composers include Valentin Silvestrov, Tigran Mansurian, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Heinz Holliger, Giya Kancheli, György Kurtág, Meredith Monk, and Heiner Goebbels. A long list of distinguished interpreters includes Kim Kashkashian, András Schiff, Gidon Kremer, Thomas Demenga, the Hilliard Ensemble, Trio Mediaeval, John Potter’s Dowland Project and the Zehetmair and Rosamunde string quartets.

ECM's interests extend across the arts, and the label has released complete soundtracks of Jean-Luc Godard's “Nouvelle Vague” and “Histoire(s) du Cinéma” and a DVD of Godard’s short films, as well as Eleni Karaindrou's music for film and theatre. The quality of ECM albums at all levels – from musicianship, production and engineering to cover art – has been widely recognised and the label has collected many awards. Eicher’s label has been hailed, by UK newspaper The Independent, as “the most important imprint in the world for jazz and new music.” In 2007 ECM made history by winning prizes as both classical label of the year and jazz label of the year (from the juries of, respectively the MIDEM Classical Awards and the Jazz Journalists Association). In 2008 and 2009 other double-wins saw Eicher voted producer of the year and ECM label of the year in the Down Beat Critics Poll. Also in 2009, ECM New Series was chosen as label of the Year by UK magazine Gramophone.

The label has documented jazz and improvised music from both sides of the Atlantic and brought together many musicians in new and influential combinations, amongst them the Chick Corea/Gary Burton duo, the ‘Belonging’ band with Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen, the ‘Magico’ trio of Charlie Haden, Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti...

Scandinavian jazz was emphasized in the early years. Eicher is still finding musicians in the Far North, and the last decade has seen the arrival of Trygve Seim, Christian Wallumrød, Matthias Eick, Tord Gustavsen, Arve Henriksen, Frode Haltli, the Trio Mediaeval and others. Southern Europe has also been explored: back at ECM after a long hiatus, Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava brought with him pianist Stefano Bollani, now also recognized as a major player. Clarinettist/saxophonist Gianluigi Trovesi has been heard in contexts from duo to banda, while pianist Stefano Battaglia has paid tribute to countryman Pier Paolo Pasolini. Looking outwards from Greece, Savina Yannatou has explored folk musics of the Mediterranean and the wider world, and pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos has looked to ancient Byzantine hymns as sources for improvisation and composition.

Although based in Munich throughout its 40 year history, ECM has focussed only infrequently on German jazz (notable exceptions being the recordings of bassist Eberhard Weber). The 2009 season, however, has included internationally-inclined projects by German groups: guitarist Marc Sinan’s “Fasil” collaboration with Julia Hülsmann, and Cyminology, the quartet fronted by German-Iranian singer Cymin Samawatie: both of these have an East/West subtext.

So too does “Siwan”, another major 2009 release. Initiated by Norwegian pianist/composer Jon Balke, inspired by the creative spirit of medieval Al-Andalus, and featuring Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui, Algerian violinist Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche, US trumpeter Jon Hassell, and baroque strings under the direction of Bjarte Eike, the recording prises open new dimensions for cross-idiomatic collaboration – itself also an ECM ‘tradition.’

It’s a tradition further exemplified by, for instance, Anouar Brahem’s newest band - in which the Tunisian oud master is joined by a Lebanese percussionist, a Swedish bassist, a German clarinettist (respectively Khaled Yassine, Björn Meyer, Klaus Gesing) - or the long-running collaboration between Argentine bandoneon innovator Dino Saluzzi and German cellist Anja Lechner.

ECM’s history of transcultural experimentation was underlined by the reissuing of the three albums by the pioneering trio of Don Cherry, Nana Vasconcelos and Collin Walcott: “The Codona Trilogy”. Codona anticipated the swelling wave of what is now termed world music. Their reissued discs form part of an ongoing historical reissue series at ECM that has already included “Setting Standards”, charting the birth of Keith Jarrett’s group with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, as well as “Life’s Backward Glances”, a Steve Kuhn collection, and “Crystal Silence”, the complete ECM duo recordings of Gary Burton and Chick Corea.

An account of ECM’s activities through four decades is encompassed in the book “Horizons Touched” edited by Steve Lake and Paul Griffiths (Granta Books, London, 2007; Spanish edition ‘Tocando el horizonte’, Global Rhythm Press, Barcelona, 2008). ECM’s cover art was the subject of “Sleeves of Desire” (Lars Müller Publishers, Badem, 1996); a second volume of ECM covers, “Windfall Light”/Der Wind, das Licht” was published by Lars Müller in November 2009

Documentation of ECM also continues in other media. Swiss filmmakers Norbert Wiedmer and Peter Guyer have for five years followed Manfred Eicher to sessions around the world. Their documentary, “Sounds and Silence” received its first screenings at film festivals in autumn 2009. Simultaneously, Suhrkamp Verlag issued the DVD of “Holozän”, the 1992 film directed by Manfred Eicher and Heinz Butler, based on Max Frisch’s novella “Man in the Holocene”.

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