Friday, February 6, 2015

The inspired ears of ECM

The recording industry, for all its dependence on the predictable and pursuit of the lowest common denominator, also has nurtured a few visionaries and inspired experimenters. John Hammond, for example: This Columbia Records talent scout and producer who introduced a mass audience to jazz and blues in the 1940s and, decades later, to Bruce Springsteen. Or Teresa Sterne, whose bargain-priced Nonesuch recordings in the 1960s and ’70s enabled listeners to explore little-known classical music and even less-known music from the non-Western world.

The most prominent recording visionary of our time is Manfred Eicher, the German double-bassist turned record producer whose ECM labels (the acronym stands for “Editions of Contemporary Music”) over the last 40 years have introduced listeners to all sorts of music they hadn’t known or even imagined. A short list would include the long-form piano improvisations of Keith Jarrett, intoxicating hybrids of jazz and Bach and other pre-classical composers, and the works of Arvo Pärt, perhaps the most widely resonant composer of contemporary art-music.

Eicher discusses what guides him in his musical explorations, in an interview with Stuart Isacoff published by The Wall Street Journal: