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50 Years of ECM - Part 1

Blog
50 Years of ECM - Part 1

16.01.2019

Text: Cem Kayıran
Translation: Yetkin Nural 

Jazz scene’s visionary label ECM has stepped into its 50th year in 2019. We will be exploring the label’s journey, which was founded in Munich by Manfred Eicher, in a series of articles that will extend over the upcoming months.

Free At Last (1969), the first album out of the 1500 items in the ECM catalogue belongs to American pianist Mal Waldron, who also played with John Coltrane for a while. The album was recorded at a West Germany town, and even though it marked the first step of a journey that will shape music history; no one, including Manfred Eicher, had any idea what was to come. Years later, Manfred Eicher re-defined his producer position in this album as the “supervisor” and continued to leave his touch on every single album that came out of ECM in a masterful way.

Eicher defined his vision as “bringing talented musicians together and recording the communication between them”, and compared producing an album to directing a theatre play. As such, he continuously pushed the boundaries of the “producer” definition and became known as one of jazz music’s modern visionaries since the second half of 20th Century.

Especially effective in Europe, ECM became one of the few major labels of jazz scene since the 1970’s. Keith Jarrett’s 1975 live album The Köln Concert is one of the top-selling jazz albums of all time today. Norwegian sax player Jan Garbarek, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko, German bassist Eberhard Weber, American musicians Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and John Abercrombie are just top of the iceberg when it comes to the names that shaped and glorified the ECM catalogue at this period.

While accommodating a varied and rich selection of approaches to jazz, ECM also included pieces of classical and world music in its catalogue, quickly becoming one of the leading platforms for a variety of sounds which Eicher defines as “music that he likes and wants to introduce to the masses”. We will continue to explore ECM Records’ history decade by decade in the following articles, but first here are 10 albums from ECM’s first decade that you should definitely give an ear to. 

Mal Waldron Trio – Free At Last
(1969)

The answer to “how it all began?”.

Jan Garbarek Quartet – Afric Pepperbird
(1970)

Maybe one of the most fervent, aggressive records from Jan Garbarek, Afric Pepperbird is also one of the milestones for free jazz.

Robin Kenyatta – Girl From Martinique
(1971)

Robin Kenyatta’s only record that came out of ECM, Girl From Martinique is an experimental work with psychedelic touches. 

Gary Burton Quartet w/ Eberhard Weber – Ring
(1974)

The star-studded quartet of the vibraphone virtuoso Gary Burton creates a progressive and layered work with Eberhard Weber’s delicious bass sounds.

John Abercrombie – Timeless
(1975)

Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette keeps John Abercrombie company in his first ECM album. The name of the album, Timeless, is probably the ideal adjective for what you are about to hear.

Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert
(1975)

One of the first albums that come to mind when talking about ECM. The recording of the performance that took place at Cologne’s opera building is still at the top of most-selling jazz records of all time.

Dave Holland – Emerald Tears
(1977)

A solo bass album that showcases the spellbinding style of one of the most talented bass players of history, Dave Holland and serves as the proof of his unique relationship with his instrument.

Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians
(1978)

One of the best examples that shows how ECM is much more than another conventional jazz label. We should note that the album, which is arguably one of the most glorious recordings of music history, was originally recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, but was released two years after its recording by ECM when Manfred Eicher discovered it.

Eberhard Weber – Fluid Rustle
(1979)

Weber, this time with Gary Burton, Bill Frisell, Bonnie Herman and Norma Winstone, creates probably the most melodic album of his career.

Pat Metheny – New Chautauqua
(1979)

After releasing two albums for ECM with names such as Eberhard Weber, Jaco Pastorius and Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny played all the bass and guitars in his first “solo” recording. The result is a naive and graceful album.

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