ECM at 40: Remembering Weather Report/Lost on the Way/The Moment's Energy/Dresden

Jeff Stockton By

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Miroslav Vitous Group w/ Michel Portal
Remembering Weather Report

Louis Sclavis
Lost on the Way

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
The Moment's Energy

Jan Garbarek Group

1969 was a major milestone in our cultural history. But that momentous year also marks the debut release from ECM Records, a label that arguably defined the jazz category in the '70s, forging an identity built on artistic purposefulness, impeccable musicianship, distinctive graphics and crisp and cleanly recorded sound. The ECM aesthetic may be as influential and pervasive as Blue Note's and their exploration of world music, jazz outside the US and the blending of jazz and classical music carries on. Miroslav Vitous' Remembering Weather Report is no mere exercise in nostalgia. The Czech bassist makes his intentions very clear in the CD's liner notes: he's seeking "progress towards musical freedom and a universal concept of equal sharing." The Weather Report most remembered calls up the time when Vitous, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter espoused an "everyone solos/nobody solos" ethic. Curiously, "Variations on Lonely Woman" and "Variations on W. Shorter" are both built on compositions that predate Weather Report (Shorter's "Nefertiti" in the latter), but Vitous' group is able to create a fresh acoustic lyricism from the barest sketch. Elsewhere, Antonín Dvorák and Miles Davis intersect and each track features consummate improvisational work from the musicians involved. Vitous' arco playing in particular stands alongside anyone else's on the scene. Frenchman Louis Sclavis holds a unique position in jazz. He's recorded some of the finest, most original small-group music of the last decade, but as a clarinetist, his music seems to fall just beyond easy categorization. Lost on the Way is a collection of relatively short, tightly composed, sinuous pieces with a pervasive gypsy/Balkan/Klezmer strain running throughout. Sclavis and alto/soprano saxophonist Matthieu Metzger double up the ethnic influences while guitarist Maxime Delpierre interjects bits of electronica over the electric bass-driven rhythm section. The song titles derive from Homer's Odyssey and the range of style and emotion from track to track suggests a journey of discovery, filled with adventure and informed by mystery, loneliness, hope and loss. The Moment's Energy, an extended work in seven sections, is Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble's fifth recording. Commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the work includes jazz-like improvisation within the framework of its formal construction, but this music isn't easily classifiable as jazz, free jazz or even contemporary classical music. The sonic landscape runs up and down the scales and back and forth across a vibrational horizon where electronica textures and colors combine to keep the dramatic elements in motion. Parker's large group composing may epitomize the ECM approach: exploring how geography, nationalism, cultural history and musical training come together to create something unique that crosses perceived boundaries and erases preconceived notions. Somehow Jan Garbarek went 40 years into his career without recording a live album, so it's fitting that his first live recording would come in ECM's 40th year. The good news is that Dresden is a double disc tour de force closer to the sort of jazz Garbarek pioneered with his work on the label in the '70s and appeared to have abandoned. In addition to the leader's tenor, soprano and flute, the band is rounded out by drummer Manu Katche, pianist/keyboardist Rainer Bruninghaus and electric bassist Yuri Daniel. The bulk of the material is drawn from Garbarek's songbook, some drastically transformed by this band, as well as a few covers and contributions from his sidemen. The band's telepathy and risk-taking betrays the years of touring they have logged, with Garbarek and Katche's simpatico exchanges deserving special attention. The high-level of musical creativity on display here makes this recording a milestone in the linked histories of artist and label.

Tracks and Personnel

Remembering Weather Report

Tracks: Variations on W. Shorter; Variations on Lonely Woman; Semina; Surfing With Michel; When Dvorak Meets Miles; Blues Report.

Personnel: Franco Ambrosetti: trumpet; Gary Campbell: tenor saxophone; Miroslav Vitous: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums; Michel Portal: bass clarinet (1, 2, 4).

Lost on the Way

Tracks: De Charybde en Scylla; La première ile; Lost on the Way; Bain d'or; Le sommeil des sirenes; L'heure des songes; Aboard Ulysses's Boat; Les doutes du cyclope; Un vent noire; The Last Island; Des bruits a tisser; L'absence

Personnel: Louis Sclavis: clarinets, soprano saxophone; Matthieu Metzger: soprano and alto saxophones; Maxime Delpierre: guitar; Olivier Lete: bass; François Merville: drums.

The Moment's Energy

Tracks: The Moment's Energy: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII; Incandescent Clouds.

Personnel: Evan Parker: soprano saxophone; Peter Evans: trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Ko Ishikawa: sho; Ned Rothenberg: clarinet, bass clarinet, shakuhachi; Phillip Wachsmann: violin, live electronics; Agusti Fernandez: piano, prepared piano; Barry Guy: double bass; Paul Lytton: percussion, live electronics; Lawrence Casserley: signal processing instrument; Joel Ryan: sample and signal processing; Walter Prati: computer processing; Richard Barrett: live electronics; Paul Obermayer: live electronics; Marco Vecchi: sound projection.


Tracks: CD1: Paper Nut; The Tall Tear Trees; Heitor; Twelve Moons; Rondo Amoroso; Tao; Milagre Dos Peixes. CD2: There Were Swallows; The Reluctant Saxophonist; Transformations; Once I Dreamt a Tree Upside Down; Fugl; Maracuja; Grooving Out!; Nu Bein; Voy Cantando

Personnel: Jan Garbarek: soprano and tenor saxophones; Rainer Bruninghaus: piano, keyboards; Yuri Daniels: bass; Manu Katche: drums.

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