Week ending 11 January 2020: surprising ECM sounds

Welcome to the new year! This was a rare solo show from Neil (before he heads back to Singapore) but it was a chance for more music from the ever-surprising ECM label, celebrating 50 years of great music. The photo above shows label founder Manfred Eicher and his longtime recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug (who died in 2019) at the mixing desk, probably in the Rainbow Studios, Oslo. We chose this second set of ECM tracks to showcase the full range of ECM recordings – and what better way to begin than with the twin guitar talents of Bill Frisell and John Scofield on a superb album led by bass player Marc Johnson. We could have played any track from Bass Desires (which went on to become the name of the band for their second album for the label) but we chose Samurai Hee-Haw. Worth listening out for is a superb version of Coltrane’s Resolution. Making up this fine quartet is the drummer Peter Erskine – one-time member of Weather Report. Both Frisell and Scofield ‘rock out’ much more than we might expect but that’s perhaps because this music was recorded in 1986 when both guitarists were exploring the outer edges of the genre.

Pat Metheny was a real stalwart of the early years of the ECM label and – along with Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek – one of their most popular artists. His first album for the label also introduced many jazz listeners to the bass playing talents of Jaco Pastorius, but we chose the ever popular Phase Dance, a track from the self-titled Pat Metheny Group, his second ECM album. Metheny’s live take on Are You Going With Me is perhaps the most famous tune from this period – but have you heard this lovely vocal version from Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek which possibly outplays the original?

Joey Alexander’s Think Of One (which I mistakenly attributed to Wynton Marsalis) is, in fact a Thelonious Monk composition – although it is the title track of the very first Marsalis album I bought way back on its release in 1983. The Marsalis version is more restrained and reverential than the more freewheeling approach taken by Joey Alexander. You can hear the Marsalis take right here. Alexander’s take captures the spirit of Monk’s always quirky compositions – and the superb support from drummer This track and six others come from an album of out-takes from Alexander’s first two studio recordings, My Favourite Things and Countdown that’s only available as a download – what a pity! There is no sense in which these are second rate recordings and it’s so worth checking out this EP length collection on here on Bandcamp. I’d love to play this one on vinyl though… Alexander (now aged 16 by the way) has a new release for 2020 titled Warna. You can hear the track Down Time here on Alexander’s website and the complete release should be out soon.

Keith Jarrett’s Dancing has also long been a personal favourite of mine. It’s from the album Changeless which is more riff-bound than many of the great recordings from Jarrett’s Standards Trio that are now available on the label. Untypically, this album features just four original Trio compositions rather than the selection of the great American standards one would expect. It’s still a delight to hear as Jarrett builds four strong melodies out of nothing but his characteristic piano vamps, accompanied by the ever inventive Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

We faded into the percussion and piano that introduced another classic ECM track – but one that is worlds away from the Jarrett repertoire and certainly much less well known. Trombonist Julian Priester was both a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi group, but on this ECM release from 1974 he is accompanied  by some other stellar players, including Hadley Caliman, Bill Connors, Ngudu Chancler and Eric Gravatt. Anchored by a sensationally simple bass riff from bassist Ron McClure Love Love is almost 20 minutes of wildly inventive pure 70s style group improvisation.  It’s closer in spirit to late 1970s Miles Davis than  almost anything else from the period.

English bassist Dave Holland’s album Extensions is another magnificent ECM record. We played the opening tune Nemesis (unfortunately, in two parts…) but could have featured any of the tracks from this superb Holland album.  The guitarist in this quartet is the normally restrained Kevin Eubanks, but here he’s on fire – and is more than ably supported by Steve Coleman on saxophones.

We stayed with the label for a very different kind of music – a beautifully restrained record from tabla master Zakir Hussain, and one of a few albums in which he is the leader. He’s accompanied here by guitarist John McLaughlin and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. The album Making Music also includes contributions from Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansuri flute.

The show ended with a very different kind of ECM sound from Swiss keyboard player Nik Bartsch and his Ronin group. All his albums feature music that is heavily programmed rather than improvised and has more in common with minimalist composers like Steve Reich than jazz structures. The distinguishing characteristics of Bartsch’s music are consistent across all his ECM releases: the modular constructions, the polymetric pulses, the complex interlocking patterns and repetitive motifs. This version of Modul 42 comes from a 2CD live album recorded in Europe.

  1. Bass Desires – Samurai Hee-Haw from Bass Desires
  2. Pat Metheny – Phase Dance from Pat Metheny Group
  3. Joey Alexander – Think Of One from In A Sentimental Mood
  4. Keith Jarrett – Dancing from Changeless
  5. Dave Holland Quartet – Nemesis from Extensions
  6. Zakir Hussain – Sunjog – from Making Music
  7. Ronin – Modul 42 from Live

Neil is listening to…

 

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