German-born composer/trumpeter Michael Mantler and his then-wife Carla Bley were instrumental in developing within jazz the idea of self-sufficiency and independence from established record companies. Their creation of the Jazz Composer's Orchestra, with recordings released on their own label, was the culmination of this endeavor, and the first recording was one of the masterpieces of creative music in the '60s. Mantler had come from the European avant-classical tradition and sought to provide an orchestral framework supporting some of the most advanced musicians in avant-garde jazz – and he succeeded magnificently.
Norwegian Hardanger fiddle specialist Nils Okland has a broad range of musical interests, as illustrated by his eclectic discography. His solo album Monograph (ECM, 2011) spotlighted his lyrical, folkloric side; Lysøen—Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM, 2011) with keyboardist Sigbjorn Apeland payed tribute to the Norwegian classical tradition; Lumen Drones (ECM, 2014) found him making trance music with two rock musicians; and the recent Felt Like Old Folk (Smeraldina-Rima, 2016) collaboration with the Belgian duo Linus was almost completely improvised. He was also a member of Thomas Stronen's "Time is a Blind Guide" band, although he does not appear on the recording.
The New York Times has praised violinist Miranda Cuckson’s “undeniable musicality,” while Gramophone has declared her “an artist to be reckoned with.” Born in Australia and educated in America, she makes her ECM New Series debut – alongside pianist Blair McMillen – with three 20th-century milestones: the Hungarian Béla Bartók’s Violin Sonata No. 2 (1922), the Russian Alfred Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No. 2 “Quasi una Sonata” (1968) and the Pole Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita for Violin and Piano (1984).
The second ECM album by Norwegian cooperative group The Source gets back to basics. Since its formation in 1993, when founder-members Trygve Seim, Øyvind Brække and Per Oddvar Johansen were all students at the Trøndelag Conservatory of Music in Trondheim, The Source has been very much a moveable feast, its motto, "No two concerts alike!" The group has embraced the wildest stylistic collisions, working variously with poets and DJs, rai vocalists and rappers, ice hockey players, and conceptual and performance artists. Their collaborators have ranged from rock band Motorpsycho to classical musicians including the Cikada String Quartet (as on their 2000 ECM recording The Source and Different Cikadas). Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of their performances have been as a quartet, most of their music was written for quartet, and this eponymously titled disc addresses a backlog of much-played material whose appearance on disc is overdue.
Luys i Luso – “Light from Light” – is Tigran Hamasyan’s first ECM album, a spellbinding exploration of Armenian sacred music, featuring the prodigiously gifted pianist with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir. Repertoire includes Armenian hymns, sharakans and cantos from the 5th to the 20th century, all newly arranged for voices and improvising pianist by Hamasyan himself. The album was recorded in Yerevan last October, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
This is a marvelous release, equally perfect in conception, execution, and engineering. The program locates the intellectual origins of the American avant-garde composers Morton Feldman and John Cage not in postwar European developments, but in the music of Erik Satie, who with each decade seems a more pioneering figure. Feldman and Cage here seem not modernists, but postmodernists. Front and center at the beginning is Feldman's masterpiece Rothko Chapel (1967), a chamber-ensemble-and-chorus evocation of the Houston, Texas, chapel adorned with paintings by, and partly designed by, the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko.
Composer portrait of Jörg Widmann (b 1973 in Munich) with two major orchestral works bridged by Fünf Bruchstücke for clarinet and piano. The Messe was composed in 2006, Elegie in 2005 while the Bruchstücke are amongst Widmann’s earliest published pieces, composed in 1997. On the Bruchstücke he is joined by another great composer/performer, Heinz Holliger, heard here in a recording debut as pianist. Widmann’s astonishingly agile clarinet dominates the Elegie with a range of expression embracing trills, multiphonics and microtones. Christoph Poppen directs the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie with customary élan.
This is not music that can be listened to casually, but it is music that is will reward intense listening. For those who have not yet encountered Kancheli's music, his ECM New Series disk titled Abii Ne Viderem may be a more amenable starting place, but Exil is a work that certainly deserves a hearing.
Michael Mantler offers a review of his career (so far), in an anthology that follows his path from the creative heyday of the Jazz Composer's Orchestra through the body of work he has recorded for JCOA, WATT and ECM. Whether juxtaposing players from the worlds of jazz, classical music and rock, setting remarkable words for remarkable voices, composing for instrumental forces from duo to symphony orchestra, or soloing as trumpeter, Mantler sounds like no one else. If the range of his work is its hallmark, his tone, as player and writer, is unmistakably his own.
Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973), too, uses his own distinctive scheme of tonal organisation, different from Roslavets, and different from the Vienna School as well. His sonatas are technically very complex and difficult, and symphonically oriented, exploiting the full resources of the modern instrument. Herbert Henck puts this difficult material across in a beautiful, spirited performance and finds a lot of lyricism behind an often forbidding surface. The recording and production are up to the highest possible standards, as with all of ECM's releases, which are unsurpassed.