Many years ago ECM already published its catalogue in black & white, but now the Japanese distributor, Kenny Inaoka, edited the full catalogue at the occasion of the label's 40th anniversary in 2009.
Few record labels have managed to create such a distinctive market positioning as ECM did over the years, with carefully selected musicians, impeccable recording quality, superb art work and an overall refinement that set the label quite apart from many other jazz labels. ECM's positioning even affected the sound of the music, which under Manfred Eicher's production, often became very sophisticated and sometimes even somewhat sterile to the die-hard jazz fan, who would argue that the "soul" was taken out of the music, resulting in somewhat spacious neo-romantic impressionism, not the music to play in smoky bars, but rather in concert halls or churches. That positioning was also reflected in the name "ECM-jazz", with special shelf space in the record stores next to the regular jazz section.
It is also no surprise that a significant part of the art work reflects that spaciousness, with pictures of horizons, of landscapes and seascapes, with lots of sky, especially in the eighties.
On the other hand nobody will deny that the label also has the "real jazz" and even historically significant ones, such as Old & New Dreams, Lester Bowie, George Lewis, Dave Holland, Art Ensemble Of Chicago. ECM also started looking beyond jazz, adding world music and new age elements to the catalogue, but without straying away from jazz totally, think of musician such as Shankar, or the great collaboration of Jan Garbarek with Usted Fatih Ali Khan, or the introduction of Tunesian oud player Anouar Brahem to broader audiences. He did the same for more rock-influenced musicians such as Terje Rypdal, Nils Petter Molvaer or David Torn, creating a dynamic of musicians who had never met before but who were brought together by Eicher's vision.
I am also sure that Eicher helped a number of musicians to become a lot better than they would have been in different cirumstances and with different producers. Without a doubt the best work by Tomasz Stanko and Enrico Rava is to be found on the label. But just also think about the many names of fantastic artists who would have remained in total obscurity outside their native country, if it had not been for Eicher's excellent ear for quality, regardless of genre : think of musicians like Egberto Gismonti, Eleni Karaindrou, Dino Saluzzi, Trygve Seim, Kim Kashkashian.
But of course the real ECM artists are Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Jan Garbarek, John Surman, Gary Peacock, John Abercrombie, Eberhard Weber, Arild Andersen.
The catalogue counts more than 700 pages and includes all of the officially released albums issued on ECM - and its subsidiary JAPO - from 1969 until 2010.
The first section of the book has six covers per page in full color, in chronological order, the second section gives details for each album: musicians, composers, track titles, recording and production details. This part also has succinct reviews in Japanese of each album.
The last section is a very useful alphabetical index by title and by musician, which makes it possible for instance to easily find all the albums on which Jack DeJohnette contributes.
This is an extremely interesting and nice-to-have book, very carefully assembled. Fans of ECM will surely love this catalogue. It is perfectly readable and enjoyable to those of us who don't read Japanese, but a complete English version would of course be welcome too.
It can be purchased from ECM.
My personal ECM history
ECM basically introduced me to jazz, with Abercrombie's "Timeless" and Jack DeJohnette's "New Directions" being the first albums, then it quickly turned into an addiction. I was mesmerised by the sound and the art work, by the total package actually, walking to the store every week to spend my savings on the new albums, returning quite disappointed if there was nothing new. I bought without even knowing what the music would sound like, actually a great way of learning new things - and to loose a lot of money. There are albums I listened to no more than once or twice, but others that I listened to over and over and over, with the Don Cherry albums being my absolute favorite, followed by the Keith Jarrett quartets.
On the artwork of some albums :
So is this one by Jan Garbarek, officially called "Photo With Blue Sky, White Cloud, Wires, Windows and a Red Roof", the only album in which the title actually refers to the picture, this one made by Eberhard Grames.
Again, just for the sheer beauty and gloomy romanticism : it is all about sky and vastness, often cold, like here with trees without leaves, with the freedom of the birds frozen in the sky. Yet the aesthetic, like in the music is undeniable and of a very specific high level. Album here is "Songs Of Another" by Savina Yanatou.
With a doubt the most used image is that of the sea, possibly the best metaphor for the nature of a lot of ECM's music - expansive, spacious, beautiful.