The Jazz.com Blog
December 25, 2007 · 0 comments
Record labels come and go, and even those that survive rarely maintain their independence. The ECM label has been around for almost forty years now, and during that time every other jazz label of note has changed ownership at least once. Blue Note, Fantasy, Pablo, Concord, even the giants RCA and Columbia, have been bought and sold, the largest whale-sized mega-labels apparently just as susceptible to these disruptions and transitions as the smallest fish in the sea. But ECM has retained its independence through it all, and not just in terms of who owns the business, but even more obviously in the company’s unwavering commitment to an artistic vision and a set of values.
Manfred Eicher, the founder and creative force behind ECM, has probably exerted as much influence on the jazz world as is possible without playing an instrument. He not only has been the visionary producer guiding important recordings by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti, and Bill Frisell, among others – but he was also a strong advocate for these musicians before they were widely known in the music world. Time and time again, Eicher has championed musicians off the beaten track – geographically as well as stylistically – and given visibility to brilliant artists who, without Eicher, might never have been able to reach a global audience.
Taking chances on lesser known musicians in this way seems like a risky approach. But somehow Eicher takes out all the risk – at least for the fans purchasing ECM’s recordings. Over the years, I have often bought an ECM release, despite knowing little or nothing about the musicians featured – but I have done so with confidence. ECM has such high quality standards and such a firm commitment to artistry, that I know in advance that is unlikely I will be disappointed by what I hear. And I may just encounter something fresh and exciting that I would never otherwise have discovered. How many jazz labels have ever instilled this degree of confidence in their judgments? How many still are able to do so? Today the answer is, sad to say, very few.
Eicher keeps a low profile. I understand that he hasn’t given a media interview in English in more than five years. Indeed, the ECM label prefers to let its music speak itself. (When was the last time you enjoyed the liner notes on a ECM release?) But Stuart Nicholson, one of the most astute jazz critics writing today, recently returned from Germany where he spent some time in conversation with Eicher. We are delighted to publish this interview on jazz.com. In conjunction with this interview, I am offering my choices for a dozen essential tracks from ECM’s first decade. Finally, Stuart is also sharing with us his Jazz Letter from Europe, which is the first of what we hope will be an on-going series.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
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