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Friedrich Kunzmann's 2018 Top 5: A fine year for the ECM catalogue

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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When looking back at the year one won't find more peace or joy than on the musical side of things. For in this realm there are nor real losers. Here, disappointment is relative and success is all over the place because everyone is trying to be their best possible selves, constantly on a path of self-improvement and reflection. A collective inwardness mirrors the individual looking outward; musicians listening to one another, understanding one another and building upon the constant exchange of phrases, sequences, filling in the notes and dots between the lines. Be the artist's motivation of egocentric nature or not—it sure has been worth my time and I'd like to believe some of it would be worth yours as well.

Modern guitar scientists Gilad Hekselman and Lionel Loueke kept their promises and delivered invigorating and ever so inventive new efforts, while veteran sound-"designer" Manfred Eicher's ECM Label continues to push the boundaries —uniting the most outward reaching and forward thinking releases under one roof for a display of unprecedented creativity and profound textures that kindle dazzling sonic images.
The intricate compositions on The Dream Thief are not only some of the best Shai Maestro has ever put to record, but on top of that they are presented in a unique dynamic production, making their contemplative nature even more intimate. Eicher and Maestro are a pairing made in heaven.


Ask For Chaos is full of odd meters, instrumental virtuoso and intense use of sound effects. At the same time though, the album furthermore demonstrates a guitarist, who's comfort zone is vast and full of creativity and joy. Never before has Gilad Hekselman sounded this free to do as he pleases. And it pleases.


Year after year I find myself praising Lionel Loueke again and again. 2018 shan't be an exception. Soulful, original. Simply extraordinary. On The Journey he takes it down a notch. Instead of odd-metered jazz extravaganza, quiet folk songs and minimalistically arranged sketches present a very spiritual and personal musician.


Ben Wendel takes up his duo compositions from 2015 and delivers convincing alternative versions of them with an energetic quartet composed of impressive individuals. Modern and traditionalist at the same time.



In the footsteps of 2016's Rising Grace (ECM), but in no way less impressive, Where The River Goes presents a guitarist who has found a home in ECM with a cast of musicians which understands him unconditionally and helps him shine all the way. Wolfgang Muthspiel at his best.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Dairo Miyamoto: Last Picture
  2. Aaron Parks: Little Big
  3. Fabian Marziali: Windows & Light
  4. Lubos Soukup Quartet: Zeme
  5. Kristjan Randalu: Absence
  6. Henri Texier: Sand Woman
  7. Morten Haxholm Quartet: Vestigium
  8. Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs
  9. Peripheral Vision: More Songs About Error And Shame
  10. Christian McBride: New Jawn

Beyond Jazz

  1. The Sea Within: The Sea Within
  2. Roine Stolt's The Flower King: Manifesto of an Alchemist
  3. Jeff Tweedy: Warm
  4. Wayne Graham: Joy!
  5. Kali Uchis: Isolation
  6. Villagers: The Art Of Pretending To Swim
  7. Jun Miyake: Lost Memory Theatre Act 3
  8. Perfect Beings: Vier
  9. Traveller: Western Movies
  10. Kaia kater: Grenades

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