Landmark ECM Anniversary Celebrated at Jazz at Lincoln Center

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Egberto Gismonti flew to New York from his home in Brazil for ECM Records at 50, a Nov. 1 and 2 celebration of the imprint at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

(Photo: Luciano Rossetti©PhocusAgency)

The curation for ECM Records at 50, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s tribute to the famed record label on Nov. 1 and 2 in New York, must have been near impossible. How to choose from the legions of venerable artists who have recorded for Manfred Eicher, the label’s founder and guiding visionary, during the past half a century?

Since its inception in November 1969, ECM has released about 1,600 albums along the jazz-to-classical continuum. With their distinctive covers—muted colors, nature photography, expressionistic graphics—ECM recordings have come to represent a capstone of artistic achievement for the musicians whose names appear on the albums. Of these artists, 32 shared the stage at JALC’s Rose Theater to mark the label’s silver anniversary on the second night of the tribute.

Pianist/guitarist Egberto Gismonti, an ECM artist since 1977, opened the concert with two solo piano selections, easing the audience into the fullness of his ebullient classical playing via a sweet, simple folk-based tune. Gismonti, who flew into New York from his home in Brazil just for the concert, debuted as a leader on ECM in 1977 with Dança Das Cabeças and went on to become one of the imprint’s most prolific artists, with dozens of releases.

Tenor player Joe Lovano, whose trio followed Gismonti at the recent show, has worked on 16 ECM recordings, with musicians as renown as drummer Paul Motian, pianist Steve Kuhn, guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist/singer Eliane Elias—but he didn’t release an ECM album under his own name until this year. He played two originals from that album, Trio Tapestry (with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi): the moodily impressionistic “Seeds Of Change” and, in contrast, “The Smiling Dog,” a bouncing, jocular tune that culminated in fervid soloing and riveting expressiveness.

In a more reposed spirit, pianist/composer Vijay Iyer, one of ECM’s newest artists, revisited his 2015 collaboration with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, one of the label’s earliest artists, for his contribution to the program. (Iyer debuted on the label in 2014 and Smith in 1979.) Their duo project, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, from 2016, presented a bold and thrilling mélange of ringing tones, squawking interjections and soothing harmonics—gorgeous in reprisal.

As Iyer left the stage, Smith remained to join his longtime label-mates, guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Andrew Cyrille, who released Lebroba in 2018—the first time all three had recorded together. From this album, they performed Cyrille’s “Pretty Beauty,” an expansive composition that pitted Frisell’s heart-searing chords against Smith’s brass protestations and Cyrille’s forceful strikes.

Among the more dramatic pieces was trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s “Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?,” from his sophomore album for ECM, 2017’s Cross My Palm With Silver, dedicated that night to the Kurdish people in Syria. Along with pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Barak Mori, and drummer Nasheet Waits, Cohen revamped the mournful, beseeching composition, embellishing from the original with spoken word—a probing, troubling commentary.

Pianist Craig Taborn has played in various ensembles for ECM since 1997—including in a piano duo with Iyer, which ECM recorded live and released this year as The Transitory Poems. But it’s as a solo performer—as on his 2012 album, Avenging Angel—that the full scope of Taborn’s skill is revealed. Taking the stage after Cohen’s quartet, Taborn pulled the audience through disjointed chords, melodic riffs, odd meters, and repetitive grooves in one of the most exciting performances of the evening.

Legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette first recorded for ECM in 1971, and today he is the label’s most recorded artist, with credits on 85 albums in its catalog. In 2015, he recorded In Movement with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison, giving the two younger players their ECM debuts. The album hints at DeJohnette’s own start with saxophonist John Coltrane and bassist Jimmy Garrison—the respective fathers of his bandmates—more than 50 years ago. The album’s trio, reassembled for the concert, moved through ominous grooves and exultant passages in perfect alignment, effecting a glorious tribute not only to ECM, but to their shared musical lineage.

Meredith Monk, the only pianist/vocalist on the program, has recorded all of her major works with ECM, starting in 1981. Midway through the evening, she performed “Gotham Lullaby” from Dolmen Music, her first ECM album, offering it in dedication to the Earth. Quixotic and haunting, with its arpeggiated chords and bird-like vocalizations, the import of the tune has only grown during the nearly four decades since Monk first performed it.

In the evening’s finale, Lovano returned to recreate two pieces from this year’s Roma, a live recording of a 2018 concert in Rome featuring two of Italy’s finest jazz musicians—trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Giovanni Guidi, both ECM artists in their own right. These tunes—Rava’s lush improvisational study “Interiors,” and Lovano’s cool, galloping “Fort Worth”—were a fitting close. They encapsulate the fundamental artistic element that all ECM artist strive for: sheer beauty. DB




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December 2019
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