We continue our celebration of the 50th Anniversary of ECM with three favorite ECM recordings from each of our writers. Please note, there is no order to sequence of writers...
Lee Rice Epstein
The Great Pretender (1981)
All the Magic! (1983)
I Only Have Eyes For You (1985)
Channeling, honoring, and spoofing Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Fats Domino in equal measure—with lineups ranging from solo to his boldly deranged Brass Fantasy—jazz's court jester and master magician reached, arguably, the peak of his career with his first three albums for ECM.
Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble - Towards the Margin (ECM, 1997)
On the Ensemble’s first album each member of the original Evan Parker trio (Parker plus Barry Guy and Paul Lytton) was given a technical/musical partner (Walter Prati, Marco Vecchi, Phil Wachsmann) who would process their acoustic sounds electronically. “Towards the Margins” is a programmatic title and it’s as adventurous today as it was 22 years ago.
Paul Bley - Open, to Love (ECM, 1973)
Bley’s solo piano album brings two worlds together: angular dissonance and meditative, pointillistic melody - a sound which helped to define the label’s sonic philosophy. It’s like a matrix of what was to come later on. Just listen to “Closer“ and “Ida Lupino“. To die for.
Jack DeJohnette - Special Edition (ECM, 1980)
Usually known as a drummer DeJohnette also plays piano here and is joined by David Murray (sax, cl), Arthur Blythe (sax) and David Warren (b). It’s mainly DeJohnette’s passionate, high-voltage homage to Eric Dolphy (‘One For Eric’) that will knock you out.
Michael Formanek - Small Places (2012)
Beauty, mystery, depth: Small Places – the second album from Formanek’s quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver, definitely has a slight edge over the first (the impressively atmospheric The Rub and Small Change , 2010) – there is something hypnotically immaculate about the composition and playing. Sophisticated urban tension.
Billy Hart Quartet – All Our Reasons (2012)
Quite possibly Billy’s greatest recorded document. There’s something deeply moving about how the quartet – a generation younger – moves with what is being constructed – nurtured, even – from the drum kit. I went to NYC to find Billy on the strength of this recording. A modern classic.
David Virelles – Mbókò (2014)
I couldn’t decide between Craig Taborn Trio’s trance-inducing Chants; Formanek’s epic, leviathan Ensemble Kolosuss –The Distance; Bobo Stenson Trio’s luscious Cantando or Ches Smith’s utterly unique, oblique narrative strangeness on The Bell – so I chose Virelles’ Mbókò.
Mbókò may have the honour of being the only true spiritual ceremony on ECM.
Subtitled: Sacred Music for Piano, two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá, to really state its Afri-Cuban heritage – Mbókò takes the listener to an actual space other records may not even acknowledge exits. After years of deep listening, there are still new dimensions to be found here. Incantatory.
What my colleagues on the blog said is true, it is really hard to pick 3 albums from the ECM catalog to call out, so I focused on guitar based recordings ... but that only went so far as you can see I'm missing Bill Frisell (In Line blew my mind, subtly), Raoul Bjorkenheim, Jakob Bro, Steve Tibbets, Bill Connors, and so on ...
David Torn - Cloud About Mercury (1986)
One of my first ECM records. I picked up this progressive rock-y, soundscape-y recording replete with time-bound synth sounds and scintillating electric guitar on a whim, and like the best serendipitous finds, it grew on me. Mark Isham's trumpet and synthesizer work, Tony Levin's Chapman Stick and synth bass, and Bill Bruford's electric drums and percussion make for an appropriately other worldly setting for the experimental guitarist.
Gateway - Gateway (1976)
John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette, and Dave Holland came together on three Gateway albums, all on ECM. I always enjoyed the flow of the playing, and the fact that they would build up to some intense moments.
Ralph Towner - Solstice (1975)
Guitarist Ralph Towner's 1975 release featured the work of Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, and Jon Christensen. The expressive bass and sharp drumming mixes sublimely with the flat tone of the sax and the wonderful textures of the 6 and 12 string guitar.
Kenny Wheeler - Music for Large and Small Ensembles (1990)
For every long road trip I take, this gets packed. When things start to drag, I put in disc 1 and Norma Winstone's soaring vocals over the controlled surges of the charts make the highway not quite as endless. Then I'm ready for the more intricate charms of disc
John Abercrombie- Timeless (1979)
Who'd have thought a best of list would include something with Jan Hammer, but his keyboard work perfectly fits what the guitarist and Jack DeJohnette contribute. Forty years later this still sounds fresh, like the title suggests.
Hal Russell NRG Ensemble - The Finnish/Swiss Tour (1991)
One of Steve Lake's most inspired decisions was to give one of music's most unique characters, and his band of future Chicago stalwarts in progress, an international platform for three wonderful releases of sheer raw honking joy. Either one of the releases would fit, but this was the first and most ear opening. Plus it was live so more infectious fun. Assuming none of you pranked the site, Wikipedia said People magazine included this as one of the top 5 albums of the year.
Charlie Haden/Carla Bley - The Ballad of the Fallen (1983)
Well worth playing this loud and it all comes to an amazing climax on the final track. A terrific band in co let unit of purpose. Politically and emotionally charged music that is as relevant now as it it was in the 80s.
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Full Force (1980)
They always sound so much more than the sum of the parts and that is the case on this album. A playful, riotous joyous collection. The feeling that I get is that they had a lot of fun making this music and for me, it simply makes me glad to be alive. Another album that was relevant yesterday, is relevant today and will be relevant tomorrow.
Paul Motian - Conception Vessel (1973)
This is less riotous than my other two choices but doesn't lack in energy, it's of a different kind. An album that conceptually and emotionally hangs together. There is a brilliant solo track from Paul Motion and the final track, 'Inspiration from a Vietnamese Lullaby', features an utterly transporting contribution by Leroy Jenkins.
Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (2016)
A collection of subversive and musically intricate piano/trumpet duets by two contemporary greats. Freely improvised, the music often finds itself in quiet spots, but even then it burns with an achingly bright fire, a fierce meditation.
Mette Henriette - Mette Henriette (2015)
A most impressive debut by the Norwegian saxophonist who leads us from chamber jazz to freer forms through 35 short and shorter pieces, all of them equally interspersed with silence and negative space. Especially neat are the shifts in approach as Henriette transitions from a trio to a larger ensemble.
Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Shadow Man (2013)
Tim Berne, Matt Mitchell, Oscar Noriega and Ches Smith endulge in a game of patience and explosions, controlled gradation and feverish intensity. Beautifully introspective and, at times, quite dark music