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50 years of ECM – Chapter 3

Blog
50 years of ECM – Chapter 3

02.08.2019

Text: Cem Kayıran
Collage: Sadi Güran

In the 3rd chapter of jazz world’s visionary label’s 50-year-long adventure, we arrive at the 90’s.

Ever expanding its sonic universe, ECM released mostly high energy, almost “happy” sounding albums during the 90’s. While continuing the impressive releases that brought jazz and classical music together, ECM also created a new intersection between electronic elements and jazz during the second half of the 90’s, with the lead of Norwegian musician Nils Petter Molvær.

This period also marked the label’s different projects that brought music together with various visual art disciplines, such as the 1996 Sleeves of Desire: A Cover Story, an archival book that focuses on original album cover designs. The visionary label ended the 90’s with a merge, joining its distribution forces with Universal Music, which was operating as a continuation of PolyGram.

Here is a selection of 10 inspirational ECM records from the 90’s period.

Dave Holland Quartet – Extensions
(1990)

The first Dave Holland album that featured guitarist Kevin Eubanks, Extensions, is the eight ECM release of the musician. Prestigious music magazine Downbeat named Extensions as the best album of the year, which offers a high dynamism with complex structures and extended solos, as well as a more laid-back listening experience compared to Holland’s avant-garde years.

Wadada Leo Smith – Kulture Jazz
(1993)

This is the first solo album of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, who joined the ECM family in 1979 with the album Divine Love that was recorded together with musicians like Dwight Andrews, Bobby Naughton, Charlie Haden, Lester Bowie and Kenny Wheeler. Kulture Jazz is commonly referred as a musical masterpiece by many music authorities. In Kulture Jazz, Wadada Leo Smith creates a meditative and unusual experience with both layered and simple structures created by various wind instruments.

Jan Garbarek – Officium
(1994)

Leaving a strong mark on ECM’s 50-year-long journey, Norwegian musician Jan Garbarek’s Officium was recorded in an Austrian monastery with Hilliard Ensemble, a chorus that interprets various early period music. One of the first albums that comes to mind when we are talking about ECM and the 90’s, Officium featured renderings of 16th Century compositions, and became one of the most successful albums of ECM’s history with sales that reached over 1,5 million.

Gateway – Homecoming
(1995)

John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland’s Gateway released Homecoming 17 years after their second album, which came out in 1978. Playing together often for various other projects, this special trio from the masters explores a wide spectrum that expands from samba to blues. From start to finish, Homecoming is full of grand moments and exciting improvisations.

Nils Petter Molvær – Khmer
(1997)

With its electronic beats and sonic layers, Khmer opens the door to an intriguing universe that is created by Nils Petter Molvær. A harbinger of the label’s newest explorations, Khmer is also the musician’s first solo album. It is also not necessarily out of line to say that Molvær’s this bold and fresh blend initiated a new period in the jazz scene.

Keith Jarrett – La Scala
(1997)

The recording of Keith Jarrett’s 1995 Teatro alla Scala concert in Milan was released as an ECM album two years after the performance. Formed by two long sections, La Scala lets you to lose yourself in the extraordinary narration of a master. It is also possible to hear sections from Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s aria, “Nessun Dorma”.

Tomasz Stańko – Leosia
(1997)

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko’s album with ECM regulars Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley is seen as the peak of the musician’s over 40 years long career. Leosia was recorded after Stańko lost a close friend and carries a heavy intensity of emotions. Songs like the bass-percussion focused “Brace” and “Forlorn Walk”, where Stenson steps off the piano, gives the album an audial variety.

Kenny Wheeler – Angel Song
(1997)

Recorded by the Canadian musician Kenny Wheeler and his all-star quartet, Angel Song has a naive and calm flow. Seen as the “best recorded performance” of Lee Konitz by many, the album also features ECM heroes Bill Frisell and Dave Holland. Melodic and meticulously constructed, this album doesn’t lose its freshness despite the years going by.

Anouar Brahem, John Surman & Dave Holland – Thimar
(1998)

When Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem joined forces with Dave Holland and John Surman, the end result was Thimar, an album that unites Arabian music with modern jazz on a superior level of harmony. The trio leaves their characteristic musical tendencies behind and meet on a common ground for this special album.

Charles Lloyd – Voice In The Night
(1999)

When you are listening to Voice in the Night, you cannot miss the effortlessly flowing communication between the four musicians. Charles Lloyd’s saxophone arpeggios and penetrating sentences are accompanied by Dave Holland, Billy Higgins and John Abercrombie’s sounds to form laid back and harmonious conversations.

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