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ECM’s 50 years long adventure - Part 2

Blog
ECM’s 50 years long adventure - Part 2

03.07.2019

Text: Cem Kayıran
Collage: Sadi Güran 

Founded in 1969, ECM has been one of the mind opening, visionary labels of jazz music. As part of our series looking at different periods of the inspiring label, we have arrived to the 1980’s.

Even though many music authorities see the 70’s as the golden age of ECM, 80’s come up as a decade where the label’s character was absorbed by its followers and the sound palette in the releases continued to expand. ECM New Series, which started in 1984, is one of the projects where the definition of “jazz label” becomes insufficient. As the ECM’s Classical Western Music project, ECM New Series releases both contemporary and past classical composers, it is also noteworthy that the music from Jean Luc Godard films were released under this series.

One of the highlighted ECM musicians of this period is Arvo Pärt. The Estonian musician built a strong musical bond with Manfred Eichner, and had an important part in founding the ECM New Series. 1980’s also saw the ECM family, which already included names like Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarrett, expanding with composers such as Meredith Monk, Thomas Demenge, Bill Frisell and Gidon Kremer.

Here are 10 suggested albums from the second decade of ECM’s journey:

Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays – As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls
(1981)

The collaboration of Pat Metheny, who joined the ECM family in 1976 and has been releasing albums from the label for almost a decade, with 11 Grammy Award winner pianist Lyle Mays. One of the rare albums where we hear Metheny on bass guitar, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls also includes a tribute to Bill Evans with the song “September Fifteenth”, which marks the date of famous musician’s death.

Meredith Monk – Dolmen Music
(1981)

First released under ECM and later on transferred to ECM New Series catalogue, Dolmen Music is the second of the eleven albums that Meredith Monk released from the prestigious label. The album, which explores different and intense emotions deriving from Monk’s unmatched vocal skills, was produced by Manfred Eicher and Collin Walcott.

Don Cherry – El Corazón
(1982)

While Don Cherry has already been releasing albums from ECM with his Codona and Old and New projects, El Corazón is the first album from the label that carries the musician’s own name. The album is a trumpet-drums duet that takes Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s hard-to-find harmony to its center and shares their rich dialogue.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago – Urban Bushmen
(1982)

The three albums released from ECM has an important part in The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s fame as the most important jazz performance band of its time. The first of the three, Urban Bushmen, is the live recording of their 1980 Munich performance and it proves once more the immensity of the soundscape that The Art Ensemble of Chicago, the leader band of free jazz, is capable of creating on the stage.

Paul Motian Band – Psalm
(1982)

The fifth album from Paul Motian with ECM, Psalm calls on the adventurous listeners. Marking the first step of the long standing collaboration between the drummer-composer Motian and guitarist Bill Frisell, Psalm manages to surprise the listeners with its unexpected breaks, long, complicated sentences and the high energy that dominates the majority of the album.

Bill Frisell – In Line
(1983)

The first solo album from Bill Frisell, who went on to become one of the most special jazz guitarists in the 80’s. Bass player Arild Andersen accompanies Frisell in five songs on this 1983 album. Nine song album is marked by a smooth flow from beginning to end, while also highlighting the delicious nuances in Frisell’s style. Holding a special place in Frisell’s discography as the start of inspiring career, In Line offers a meditative listening experience with its calm and spiral structures.

Jan Garbarek Group – It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice
(1984)

Norwegian saxophone player Jan Garbarek’s recording with his band including David Torn, Eberhard Weber and Michael Di Pasqua, It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice blends elegant and fragile melodies with aggressive and intense sounds. The name of the songs from the album provides quotes from Swedish psychologist and poet Tomas Tranströmer.  

Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa
(1984)

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s collaboration with Manfred Eicher opened up the way for one of the most special routes within ECM’s immense catalogue. Pärt’s 1977 composition Tabula Rasa also marks the start of ECM New Series in 1984. Referred as the minimalist monk of music history, Arvo Pärt developed the Tintinnabuli style built on his research of Middle Age and Renaissance music, and Tabula Rasa is the first example of his compositions with this style. He expresses the motivation behind this composition with the following words: “Unfortunately our heads can become blind and narrow as small machines. I wanted to free myself from that.”

Gary Burton Quintet – Whiz Kidz
(1987)

Releasing albums on ECM for 14 years, Gary Burton’s final album from the label brought in two young talents to the jazz scene: 18-year-old tenor saxophone player Tommy Smith and 25-year-old Japanese pianist Mokoto Ozone. The two talented youngsters, who Burton met through Chick Corea, also inspired the name of the album: Whiz Kidz.

Steve Tibbetts – Big Map Idea
(1989)

Opening with a Led Zeppelin rendition that highlights tabla rhythms, Big Map Idea brings a wide sound palette from master guitarist Steve Tibbet’s rich inspirations together. Acoustic guitar, guitar synthesizer, kalimba, cello, dobro and the hybrid pianolin are some of the instruments that you get to hear in this album. “3 Letters”, a three part song that is built on the recordings from the musician’s Nepal visit, is one of the most special experiences of the album.

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