With its 35-year history of landmark recordings, it's no surprise that the German ECM label has spawned its share of imitators. But more importantly it has also encouraged more than one generation of artist, who see its cool, austere aesthetic as a starting point for new directions. From the Nordic cool of Jan Garbarek, the neo-classicism of Eberhard Weber and the melancholy lyricism of Kenny Wheeler, younger artists are forging new paths using ECM's delineated sound as inspiration.
British composer/drummer Jon Opstad may only be in his early 20s, but he has already fashioned his own take on the ECM aesthetic, combining some of its more recognizable European elements with a slightly more American framework. His biography cites Garbarek, Wheeler and Herbie Hancock as influences, and you can hear those roots, as well as the looming presence of Eberhard Weber, on his début recording, Still Picture.
The title track, in fact, sounds as if it could have been recorded by Weber's Colours band. Layers of celli come courtesy of James Opstad, who, at the tender age of sixteen, shows remarkable depth as both a cellist and fretless electric bassist, echoing Weber's own orchestral leanings; while Simon Cosgrove's soprano saxophone comes more from Charlie Mariano than it does Garbarek. The piece unfolds gradually, for which Jon Opstad, who composed all the pieces on this collection, deserves credit. In the liner notes to his ECM Selected Recordings collection, Eberhard Weber writes of how "...in the late '70s and early '80s, you took your time, played 'endless' introductions before finally getting down to business. But that bothered nobody because we had patience, a quality disappearing nowadays." Opstad's ensemble clearly understands the concept of taking the necessary time to allow a piece to breathe and gradually evolve; and the title track is a fine example of the five compositions on Still Picture , all of which take their good time and, consequently, create a relaxed ambience that is far too rarely heard these days.
As a drummer Opstad comes unapologetically from the Jon Christensen school of thought. Time is elastic. Less is more. Opstad favours light and textural cymbal-work over heavy rhythms, drawing the time out rather than steadfastly asserting it.
But as much as Still Picture owes a great deal to the ECM aestheticand tunes like the opening "Fjord Song" may be inspired by the Nordic faction, but demonstrate equally the bittersweet melodicism of Wheeler, especially in trumpeter David Gange's choice of notesthere's an American flavour there as well, mostly through pianist Rogerson, whose sense of abstract impressionism seems equally balanced between the American and European traditions.
Considering the youngest member of this band is 16 and the oldest is 23, the musical maturity and clearness of conception shown on Still Picture is considerable. They may wear their influences a tad too brightly on their sleeves at the moment, but a work this developed bodes well for future endeavours.
Personnel: Simon Cosgrove (soprano saxophone), David Gange (flugelhorn, trumpet), Tom Rogerson (piano), James Opstad (fretless bass, cellos), Jon Opsted (drums, percussion), Chris Hill (double-bass on "Fjord Song")