ECM: A Cultural Archeology
Solo piano recordings were by no means of unheard of prior to the label's emergence, but starting with Corea's Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 (1971), Jarrett's Facing You (1971) and Paul Bley's Open, To Love (1973), and continuing straight through the years to recent entries like Craig Taborn's Avenging Angel (2011), Jarett's Rio (2011), ), Jon Balke's Book of Velocities (2009) and Stefano Bollani's Piano Solo (2008), ECM has set a high standard for solo recordings against which all others are measured.
Eicher has also been a significant catalyst for a number of cross-cultural groups including the Solstice quartet, with American guitarist/pianist Ralph Tower, Jan Garbarek, German bassist Eberhard Weber and Jon Christensen; the sublime Magico trio with Garbarek, Brazilian guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti and American bassist Charlie Haden; and, perhaps most importantly, the CODONA trio that collected Towner's band mate in Oregon, sitarist/tablaist/percussionist Collin Walcott, trumpeter/percussionist Don Cherry (Americans, both) and, from Brazil, berimbau player/percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.
CODONA's importance, in fact, in introducing the concept of bringing together not just musicians, but instruments and traditions from many cultures, and cross-pollinating them in new and wonderful ways, was clearly a touchstone for Enwezor and Müller, as the exhibition commissioned a film from The Otolith Group called New Light, which tells the story of this transcultural trio, largely through stills patiently edited together (since there isn't much live footage of the trio to be found), and its ongoing influence, despite two of its three members now gone for nearly 20 and30 years respectively, in the case of Cherry and Walcott.
"It was a very good work," Eicher says about the film, "because they only had still photos they had no moving pictures from the band, only the photos that were done during the photo sessions by Roberto Massoti, and others. They're very significant for the time, as they tell the very characteristic milieu of that time, how these musicians came together. It was a transcultural kind of event, one could say, coming from different places. It was wonderful to see them, and how they incorporated the moving pictures and what they made aesthetically out of this idea, together with the original soundtracks from the albums. It's quite amazing. I was very pleased to see that.
"I think CODONA remains a very influential group," Eicher continues, "with two members passed away and with Nana Vasconcelos living in Brazil. It's really touching to see them together. This music really is timeless. None of these records will ever age. I listened again to the music that they have chosen for this exhibition, and I was amazed at how much the incredible energy, sensitivity and foreseeable concepts were there in the music. And then we also had this wonderful recording with Don and [drummer] Ed Blackwell, El Corazon (1982). This is also a wonderful statement."
Perhaps the most eminently impressive perspective, reflecting just how big ECM's contribution has been to the world of music was a massive wall containing everything from 2' multi-track tapes to ¼" masters and the Alesis Digital Audio Tapes (ADATS) that represented the early sign of a recording industry moving from analog to digital recording.
Hours could easily have been spent simply examining each and every session reel, from an inauspicious 1977 box that simply read, on the spine, "Pat Metheny'Quartet,'" but which would become such a massive seller for the label when released a year later as Pat Metheny Group (1978). Tapes from Terje Rypdal's Odyssey sessions have particular immediate significance, since the label only released the full, two-LP set on CD this year in the three-disc Old and New Masters Series box, Odyssey: In Studio & In Concert (2012). Elsewhere, tapes from other successful projects, like Garbarek's first collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble, 1993's Officium, juxtapose with lesser known titles of no less artistic significance by artists like the late reed player Joe Maneri, and pianist Larry Karush's simply titled, overlooked little gem of a duet with Oregon bassist Glen Moore, May 24, 1976 (originally released on ECM's subsidiary Japo label that same year)all reminders of the many fine recordings that, if not exactly forgotten, certainly beg revisitation.