Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Of all the jazz-related record companies currently releasing new music, few have had such an instantly identifiable aesthetic as Munich-based ECM Records. Since 1969, Manfred Eicher’s label has produced many of the jazz world’s most memorable recordings with a cross-section of its greatest artists, and brought the cutting edge of Europe’s improvised music scene to audiences around the world. Starting with the release of expatriate American pianist Mal Waldron’s 1969 trio session Free at Last, and on the over 1200 albums that followed, ECM has travelled a singular path, making recordings of great clarity and richness that revel in a spacious ambience, balancing openness and subtlety with moments of breathless intensity. Landmark albums under the ECM name are plentiful, such as Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert and Belonging, Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life, Chick Corea and Gary Burton’s Crystal Silence, Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires, Gateway with John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, and Charles Lloyd’s The Water is Wide, among many others. The label has been home to a number of the music world’s most accomplished instrumentalists, including Paul Motian, Don Cherry, Bill Frisell, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Zakir Hussain, Eberhard Weber, Gary Peacock, Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Enrico Rava, Kenny Wheeler, and Ralph Towner, as well as orchestral and chamber music from Steve Reich, John Adams, The Hilliard Ensemble and Arvo Pärt.
In harmony with their musical signature, ECM is notable for their evocative cover art and design that features stunning (and often abstract) photography along with elegant, minimal typography. This distinctive visual identity has influenced countless designers and artists, and has been documented in a pair of sought-after compilation books, Sleeves of Desire: A Cover Story, and Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM.

SFJAZZ has a long, established relationship with the label, presenting most of its major artists at various times over the years. A series devoted to ECM during the 2010 SFJAZZ Spring Season included a half-dozen performances as well as a screening of the documentary film Sounds and Silence: Travels with Manfred Eicher.

For Season 3, SFJAZZ is presenting ECM Fest from 3/26 to 3/29, with performances from a pair of newly signed masters and a pair of musicians long associated with the label.
Saxophonist Chris Potter brings the West Coast premiere of his Underground Orchestra, featuring an extended ensemble consisting of a jazz septet augmented with strings that DownBeat reviewer James Hale called “a triumphant integration of diverse elements that alternately soars and dances.” Their phenomenal new album, Imaginary Cities, was recently released.
Vijay Iyer stands as one of the jazz world’s most acclaimed young stars, racking up multiple DownBeat Critics Poll wins and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” After making his ECM debut with 2014’s Mutations, the pianist and composer released Break Stuff with his telepathic trio of Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums.
Brazilian guitar giant Egberto Gismonti presents a solo evening that will ably demonstrate his mastery of traditional folkloric styles, improvisation and facility on multiple instruments.
Finally, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko performs with his virtuosic New York Quartet with pianist David Virelles, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, the band featured on Stanko’s latest, the double album Wisława – a release inspired by the late Nobel-winning poet Wisława Szymborska.

With an unmistakable visual stamp and music that often defies easy description, the ECM label has created an entire musical world of its own.

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