Difficult as it may be for younger listeners to believe, there was a time when ECM released adventurous improvised music. Back near its inception in the early '70s, the label issued a wide variety and decent number of challenging avant-garde recordings that represented some of the most forward-looking musical thinkers of the time. One of these was Marion Brown, who, at the time of this session, was about midway between his extreme post- Coltrane explorations and the luscious, down-home evocations of Georgia that he would create for Impulse! over the next few years. He gathered 11 musicians, including a couple from the then current Miles Davis Bitches Brew band (Chick Corea and Bennie Maupin), the then little-known Anthony Braxton, Andrew Cyrille, and the late great vocalist Jeanne Lee for two side-long, wide-ranging pieces.
Cantando continues Stenson's twenty-year relationship with Anders Jormin. A virtuosic player with remarkable extended techniques, his relationship with Stenson has always been that of an equal—his singing double-bass as much a factor in defining the trio's unique complexion as Stenson's own ability to bring unerring lyricism to even the most open-ended context. Jormin has also been responsible for introducing compelling material, including that of Cuban singer/composer Silvio Rodriguez, whose "Olivia" opens Cantando with the perfect combination of melodic resonance and liberal interpretation.
The halfway point in ECM's excellent 20-volume Rarum series is by one of its signature talents: bassist, composer, and bandleader Dave Holland. These documents are, essentially, career retrospectives wherein the artist chooses from his performances on the label, either as a leader, soloist, or sideman. Holland offers a fantastic cross section from his own catalog, with one exception. That selection is the album's opener, "How's Never" from Homecoming, the second album by Gateway, a trio Holland was involved in with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Most of the rest come from his celebrated 1980s and 1990s recordings with then-young luminaries such as Steve Coleman, Chris Potter, Smitty Smith, Kevin and Robin Eubanks, and ECM veterans such as Kenny Wheeler, Julian Priester, and Steve Wilson.
Egberto Gismonti's volume in the excellent ECM Rarum series contains material from seven of his ten albums for the label as a leader, none from the 124 recordings on his own label distributed by ECM. It hardly matters. Gismonti is the most enigmatic and mercurial of the artists on the roster. Being from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he has made a life of delving deep into his country's magical musical framework that draws into itself and expands upon the many cultures that have intersected with it from Africa, Europe, and the United States. The music contained here finds Gismonti, ever the shamanistic gadfly conjurer, singing and playing no less than eight instruments, from percussion to guitars to flutes.
Since founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, ECM Records (Edition of Contemporary Music) have released more than 1200 albums in a catalogue that boasts some of the most important artists of the last fifty years. Eicher’s talent for spotting the right artists to record for his label, and the quality of the finished product in terms of recording, production and artwork have transcended the labels initial reputation of having the ‘ECM sound’ to being acknowledged as producing music of exceptional quality in terms of both performance and recorded sound.
A thunderous recording by saxophonist Liebman from the year 1974. Here the American saxophonist - and friends Abercrombie and Beirach - are flanked by no less than eight drummers and percussionists. To listen to 'Drum Ode' is to swim in waves of rhythms, cross-rhythms, polyrhythms, to be carried along by tidal beats. At the time when he made 'Drum Ode', Liebman was playing with the Miles Davis Group in its most electric/tribal groove period, and Miles's influence is clearly discernible here.
In addition to his solo piano concerts and the American group he led that featured tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, Keith Jarrett was also busy in the mid-'70s with his European band, a quartet comprised of Jan Garbarek on tenor and soprano, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. Due to the popularity of the haunting "My Song," this album is the best known of the Jarrett-Garbarek collaborations and it actually is their most rewarding meeting on record. Jarrett contributed all six compositions and the results are relaxed and introspective yet full of inner tension.
There is a lot of music on this set, including the 30-minute "Oasis." This is a Live at the Village Vanguard recording by pianist Keith Jarrett and his European quartet (Jan Garbarek on soprano and tenor, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen). The pianist very much dominates the music but Garbarek's unique floating tone on his instruments and the subtle accompaniment by Danielsson and Christensen are also noteworthy.
The evocative ECM debut of the outstanding Hungarian guitarist Zsófia Boros addresses a broad range of composition for her instrument, drawing on music of the Americas. “Often I think I am holding the choice of music in my own hands, but later I wonder if the music has chosen me as a medium. My approach is always very intuitive; when a piece of music grips or touches me, I want to reflect it – to become a mirror and convey it.”
“There is no more important reason for composing music than spiritual renewal.”–Sofia Gubaidulina. Shostakovich once famously said of his student, Sofia Gubaidulina, “I want you to continue along your mistaken path.” Mistaken, that was, in the former Soviet Union, where the deliverance preached through her devout composing sat uncomfortably with censors. So much so that when she composed her Seven Words in 1982, she was obliged to leave out “…of Our Savior on the Cross” from its title. Nevertheless, this riveting work is one of the twentieth century’s reigning masterpieces.