ECM at 40: Enjoy Jazz Festival: Days 3-6, October 22-25, 2009
An important part of "The Blue Sound" festival was a full-day international symposium held at the university in Mannheim Castle, featuring eight lecturers from a variety of countries and with a multitude of perspectives, and a final panel discussion that included Manfred Eicher. With Enjoy Jazz a festival largely in German, English and German translations were available for attendees, sp they could understand the lectures, regardless of the language.
Perhaps most surprising about the Symposiumthough, given the broad scope of ECM, perhaps not so surprising at allwas how little overlap there was between lecturers. Süddeutsche Zeitung editor Thomas Steinfeld opened the day with a lecture that was only partly serious on the subject of "nothing," though not in reference to the old Seinfeld television show, but more philosophically. ECM CDs begin with five seconds of silence, and Steinfield explored the significance of this unusual marker. French critic, philosopher and curator Daniel Soutif spoke of the emergence of jazz in Europe, setting the context for how American jazz found its way across the ocean and, in the 1960s, became part of a movement that was as much sociological as it was artistic. This writer spoke about how ECM recontextualized American jazz within a broader musical spectrum, and how label loyalty evolved through the expectation that new recordings would be anything but similar to what had come before.
Oldenberg professor of media, Susanne Binas-Preisendörfer, spoke about music industry trends, while Hannover professor of trumpet, Herbert Hellhund, discussed the importance of the north in ECM's overall aesthetic, and the label's commitment to incorporating the cultural traditions from countries around the globe into the overall purview of improvised music. BBC Radio's Fiona Talkington delivered a particularly compelling lecture that drew a line from ECM's regular series to New, using Terje Rypdal as the initial touchstone, but ultimately leading from his memorable "Return of Per Ulv," from If Mountains Could Sing, forward to his own Lux Aeterna (2002) and Knaefel's 2000 same-titled composition and album (performed by cellist brothers Patrick and Thomas Demenga). From there, Talkington drew a line back to Schumann and, ultimately, Bach, and in a brief twenty minutes of speech and sound samples, vividly made the same point that Eicher made two days prior at the press conference.
From there, Italian writer Francesco Martinelli demonstrated the confluence of Euro-American traditions, dating as far back as the 1930s, when ((Sidney Bechet)) referenced music from an Italian opera in one of his solos. That cross-pollination has existed all along was Martinelli's theory, and it was proven even further as he came to Italian clarinetist/composer Giovanni Trovesi, whose Profumo di Violetta (ECM, 2009), brought the stylistic blurring of opera and improvised music to the Northern Italian provincial banda. "The Blue Sound" co-curator, Wolfgang Sandner, stepped in at the last minute for the unavailable Richard Williams, and closed the lecture segment of the day with discussion of Keith Jarrett, in particular, his highly successful Köln Concert (1976), and how the pianist constantly creates something from nothing.
Ending with a panel discussion involving this writer, Fiona Talkington, Daniel Soutif and Manfred Eicher, questions from the audience were taken, as well as driven by co-curator Hans-Jürgen Linke. It was a fitting close to a day filled with new ideas and intriguing consolidationsall of which are planned to be published in a book in 2010, to celebrate ECM's 40th Anniversary.
When it was released in 2007, Ojos Negrosthe sublime duo recording by Argentinean bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi and German cellist Anja Lechnerwas critically acclaimed for its marriage of Saluzzi's South American folk tradition and Astor Piazzolla-informed tango, with Lechner's inherent classicism; yet another example of ECM and its artists blurring or, in some cases, entirely erasing anything that would prevent a fertile cross-pollination of musical ideas.
Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner
Of course Saluzzi is no stranger to the classical world, having released the second of two albums, both called Kultrum (1998), where the bandoneonist collaborated with the German-based Rosamunde Quartetthis first encounter, in fact, with Lechner, a member of Rosamunde. While her early career was largely focused on classical concerns, Lechner was also interested in improvised music and, as a result of Kultrum, the music of South America. Lechner began touring with Saluzzi as a duo some years ago, so Ojos Negros was no singular event; instead, it was the culmination of much work togetherwork that has continued since the album's release, and demonstrated palpable growth in the duo's all-acoustic performance in the resonant Hall of Knights, the ideal venue for yet another ECM group that values space and the decay of notes, and eschews conventional virtuosity for more lyrical concers.
If Ojos Negros was an album where the improvisation was more in the area of interpretation rather than overt creation of, for example, new melodies based on the structure of the writing, Saluzzi and Lechner's performance demonstrates a duo that may still work within the confines of the written page, but takes considerably more risk and liberty than it did when the album was recorded three years ago.
Saluzzi appeared to be almost in a state of transcendence, eyes open but seeing something beyond what was in the literal world. Lechner was, perhaps, more grounded but no less engaged, as the two wound their way through a 75-minute set culled, in part, from Ojos Negros. Tender melodies intertwining with temporal elasticity, and a sound that filled the room with warmth, as the two connected through nearly constant eye contactthat is, when Saluzzi wasn't looking somewhere else that nobody else could see.
Near the end of the duo's moving performance, Saluzzi spoke clearly from the heart when he said: "Manfred Eicher is a part of my heart, because he's a part of my history" As the weekend continued to move forward, there was much praise for Eicher who, according to trumpeter Enrico Rava in public after the final performance on Sunday, October 25, spoke of how, "sometimes you come to the studio and you don't know what to do; Manfred Eicher can help you find what to do." It became abundantly clear that Eicherdistanced completely from the kind of record creation where the producer has little artistic involvementis invariably the added member of the ensemble, an active artistic participant whose suggestions are sometimes subtle, other times definitive.