Manfred Eicher: Manfred Eicher: ECM - Selected Signs III - VIII

John Kelman BY

Sign in to view read count
Manfred Eicher: Manfred Eicher: ECM - Selected Signs III - VIII
When München's Haus der Kunst sponsored a nearly three-month exhibition about the ECM Records label, ECM: A Cultural Archeology, which ran from November, 2012 to February, 2013, there was far more to it than just bringing together collections of album covers, rarely seen video, archival tapes, imagery and concert performances. As much as ECM has carved a niche for itself as a label concerned about the whole package, including quality of sound, design and artwork, it is, after all, a record label, and one that has, in a history now spanning more than forty years, emerged as a singular, inimitable entity for its approach to the music it produces. ECM may not be for everyone—and is most certainly criticized by those who often try to pigeonhole a label whose discography makes it, in almost every way, unquantifiable—but it's the only label that has lasted this long where its fans regularly purchase music about which they are completely unfamiliar, for the sole reason that if it's on ECM, it's, at the very least, worth a listen. And, more often than not, even if it doesn't instantly resonate, there is usually something that makes the music worth revisiting until it ultimately does. The label's music is oftentimes about patience and, most importantly, an equilateral triangle of trust: between the label and its artists; the artists and their fans; and the label and its fans.

With label head Manfred Eicher producing the lion's share of its 1,200+ recordings, and involved, to some degree, with virtually every album that's been released, starting in 1969 with Mal Waldron Trio's Free at Last through to recent albums like Craig Taborn Trio's Chants (2013), Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell's Azure (2013), and Quercus (2013)—a particularly stunning nexus of traditional British folk music and freer improvisational concerns—there's a certain aesthetic that many have unsuccessfully tried to quantify, but which simply boils down to one thing: Eicher is that rare beast, an active producer who gets his hands dirty and is a full participant in the creative process. There may be other active producers out there, but none who have, by also running a record label now in its 44th year, not only changed the way music is experienced and heard, but regularly and consistently challenged preconceptions, pushed envelopes and burst through artificial musical and cultural delineators.

Along with a new book, with the same title as the exhibition—published by Prestel Verlag in 2012 in both English and German—Selected Signs III-VIII continues a series of ECM samplers that began in 1997 with its first volume, but in this case ties directly into the exhibition, allowing those who were unable to attend to at least experience one aspect of it. These six CDs—housed in a suitably austere white box and containing nearly seven hours and twenty minutes of music that spans much of the label's history—are playlists that Eicher himself programmed for the exhibition's numerous listening stations and small alcoves, where it was possible to sit on a bench at the end of a small, dark room and become immersed in some of the ECM's finer recordings, delivered through superb, high-end sound systems.

Ask any musician what one of the hardest parts of making an album is, and they'll tell you: choosing and properly sequencing the tracks. Eicher, who sequences almost all of the label's releases, has become known for his keen ear and acute observational skills, which result in albums that are not just collections of discrete compositions and/or improvisations, but are, instead, complete entities unto themselves, where the experience of listening to a recording in its entirety, start to finish, reveals far more than any individual piece could.

Selected Signs' six discs contain material that, by now, has all been released, but is as current as Ralph Alessi's Baida (2013)—out now in Europe but not due in North America until September 10, 2013. Some discs focus completely on the New Series classical side of the label, though a single set can and does span centuries, as with Selected Signs III, which begins with a (German) spoken word piece, from Heiner Goebbels and Heiner Müller's Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (1988), that segues seamlessly, with a pulse in perfect tempo, into an excerpt from minimalist composer Steve Reich's seminal Music for 18 Musicians (1978)—the very first New Series release, which, while initially delineating composed music from the more improv-oriented fare of the label's regular series, has become a much fuzzier line as of late. The same disc also includes 18th century music from Johann Sebastian Bach ("Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit," performed by Márta and (composer) György Kurtág); a piece from JS Bach's progeny, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, some 18th/19th century music from Joseph Haydn, and 20th century fare from Meredith Monk, Tigran Mansurian and, in particular, Arvo Part, the famed Estonian composer who has garnered significant acclaim through a relationship with ECM that—beginning with Tabula Rasa (1984), represented by two tracks here—is approaching its 30th anniversary.

What makes these sets so essential is how Eicher clearly sees intimate connecting threads through all the music he's produced over the past forty years. Some discs focus more specifically on a few artists: Selected Signs V is dominated by music from Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou's two live recordings—Concert in Athens (2013), which features Norwegian saxophonist/ECM stalwart Jan Garbarek, and Elegy of the Uprooting (2006), though Eicher also finds links in this music to Garbarek's solo/duo recording with Ralph Towner, Dis (1977), Jon Balke's sadly overlooked collaboration with singer Amina Alaoui, Siwan (2009), and baroque guitarist Rolf Lislevand's better-received Nuove musiche (2006). The participation of Norwegians on most tracks might be a most superficial connection; more significant, perhaps, is the way that traditional music has traveled the world (in this case from Greece to Norway to Persia), spanned centuries, from the 17th Century Baroque era through to Garbarek's contemporary improvisations and Balke's unique blending of Baroque classicism, North African music, ambient textures and Persian instrumentation.

The label has always been about finding ways to bring seemingly disparate music together, and while Selected Signs VII might seem to be as eclectic as can be, it's the way that Eicher sequences music from artists including Stefano Battaglia, Tord Gustavsen, Colin Vallon and Christian Wallumrod—four very different pianists—along with contributions from singer Norma Winstone's multinational trio; the genre-busting Magico trio with Garbarek, guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti and double bassist Charlie Haden; more modernist, American-based jazz from Ralph Alessi; the equally contemporary but intrinsically melancholic lyricism of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko; the more ethereal freedom of the Anglo/Norwegian collaboration Food; and the intimate yet playful duo of cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos. Looking at Eicher's sequencing, there are sometimes obvious threads; still, most of the time the only real connection is the music itself, and how and why these compositions work in this specific sequence is something only Eicher could truly explain, but for which only a good set of ears is required to listen and, more importantly, to hear.

It's interesting to see—with the sole exception of guitarist Eivind Aarset's "Close (for Comfort)," from Dream Logic (2012) and which closes Selected Signs VI—an entire CD devoted to just two recordings: a little more than half of Andrey Dergatchev's atmospheric, electronics-driven soundtrack to The Return (2006), and all but one track from Nils Petter Molvaer's seminal Khmer (1997), an album that, in its combination of techno interests, world music concerns and the trumpeter's emergent voice, truly shook the music world and was one of a handful of recordings that signaled the beginning of a new phase in Norwegian improvised music that continues to be felt to this day.

Most curious—and revealing—is Eicher's inclusion of a two-and-a-half-minute field recording of a wolf to connect Dergatchev with Molvær on Seleced Signs VI, and a thirty-second recording of a flowing river to somehow bring Joseph Haydn to Meredith Monk on Selected Signs III. How and why they work may be difficult to articulate, but they somehow manage to shift moods and, in the case of Haydn and Monk, allow two very different pieces of music to live almost next door to one another, while the wolf recording acts almost as a palette cleanser, from Dergatchev's use of electronics and programming to Molvær's similarly cinematic approach, on an album that may not be an actual film score but is absolutely the soundtrack to an imaginary film.

The final set, Selected Signs VIII, focuses more on improvised music, but its purview is broad, ranging from Jimmy Giuffre's classic reading of Carla Bley's "Jesus Maria," from 1961 (1992)—two gentle, chamber jazz recordings from the titular year (Fusion and Thesis), rescued from obscurity by Eicher—and the angular explorations of Paul Bley, Evan Parker and Barre Phillips on the title track to Time Will Tell (1994), to the sequencer-driven but still freewheeling track from Phillips' Mountainscapes (1976). In fact, the first three tracks seem to be sequenced with personnel linking each track to the next: Bley, on 1961 and Time Will Tell, and Phillips on Time Will Tell and Mountainscapes. But there the obvious thread ends, as Eicher turns to Old and New Dreams, the super group with Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, paying tribute to its source on a particularly deep reading of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," and even more curiously, a piece from British folk singer Robin Williamson's Skirting the River Road (2002), where traditional interests from both Britain and Sweden (represented by multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller) combine with the unfettered free play of saxophonist Paul Dunmall, violist Mat Maneri and bassist Mick Hutton.

The final disc also includes a handful of tracks not produced by Eicher—specifically, tracks from Time Will Tell, Skirting the River Road, Williamson's ECM debut The Seed-at-Zero (2000), and Wadada Leo Smith's Kulture Jazz (1993), all produced by Steve Lake, the label's text writer who, along with these titles, has produced recordings by artists including Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, the Transatlantic Art Ensemble that has performed challenging music by Parker and Roscoe Mitchell, Mitchell's Note Factory group, last heard on 2010's Far Side and, most recently, the Lucian Ban/Mat Maneri duo recording, Transylvanian Concert (2013). Lake's predilections have largely focused on the more left-of-center improvised arena, though Eicher is, of course, more than capable and interested, as can be heard in his collaborations with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago and, more recently, Tim Berne on Snakeoil (2012) and both Craig Taborn's Chants and the pianist's stellar solo outing, Avenging Angel (2011).

None of these recordings appear anywhere on Selected Signs III—VIII, but it's not so much a case of intentional omission—these compilations being anything but "best ofs" and, more simply, Eicher's most successful demonstrations of the breadth and depth of his label's catalog. These are collections that stand alone as distinct entities in their own right, each with their own story to tell.

With a label that's been around as long as ECM there are clearly many tales to be told—past, present and future. With Selected Signs III—VIII, Eicher has created the perfect audio companion to ECM: A Cultural Archeology, one that should, rather than being assessed for what's been left out, be recognized for what's included: 87 tracks, collected on six CDs, that not only possess their own narratives, but shine a spotlight on Eicher's remarkable ability to hear connections where none seem otherwise to exist—the aural equivalent of the photographer or cinematographer whose eyes see, sometimes in the most seemingly banal scenery, what others cannot.

ECM's discography could hardly be called banal, but in his ability to both hear and create unexpected connections between oftentimes disparate music, Selected Signs III—VIII once again suggests Eicher as a label head who doesn't just facilitate music, he's a fully engaged producer who actually creates it.

Track Listing

CD1 (Selected Signs III): Heiner Goebbels/Heiner Müller - In einem alten Fahrstuhl; Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians (excerpt); Arvo Pãrt - Fratres; Arvo Pãrt - Tabula Rasa; György Kurtág - Aus der Ferne; Johannes Sebastian Bach - Gottes Zeit ist di allerbeste Zeit; Tigran Mansurian - Testament; Betty Olivero - Neharót Neharót (excerpt); Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Fantasie für Klavier fis-Moli; Joseph Haydn - The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross IV. Largo; River; Meredith Monk - Scared Song; Heiner Goebbels/Heiner Müller - Der Chef. CD2: (Selected Signs IV): Heiner Goebbels - Hörstück II/Kleine Passacaglia; Giya Kancheli - Vom Winde beweint I. Largo Molto; John Tavener - Funeral Canticle (excerpt); Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartet No. 15 I. Elegy; Arvo Pãrt - Most Holy Mother of God; Spanish anonymous - Tres morillas m'enamoran; Dmitri Shostakovich - Chamber Symphony op 110 bis I. Largo; Valentin Silvestrov - I. Postludium "DSCH"; Valentin Silvestrov - III. Postludium. CD3 (Selected Signs V): Eleni Karaindrou - Voyage; Eleni Karaindrou - Closed Roads; Eleni Karaindrou - Invocation; Eleni Karaindrou - Tango of Love; Eleni Karaindrou - Tom's Theme; Eleni Karaindrou - Laura's Waltz; Eleni Karaindrou - Adagio; Eleni Karaindrou - After Memory; Eleni Karaindrou - Farewell Theme; Eleni Karaindrou - Seeking Theme; Eleni Karaindrou - Nostalgia Song; Eleni Karaindrou - Requiem for Willy Loman, var.; ; Eleni Karaindrou - The Weeping Meadow; Eleni Karaindrou - Memories; Jan Garbarek - Dis; Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui - O Andalusian; Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui - Ashiyin Raïqn; Rolf Lislevand Ensemble - Passacaglia andaluz II; Rolf Lislevand Ensemble - Toccata; Rolf Lislevand Ensemble - Passacaglia cromatica; Rolf Lislevand Ensemble - Arpegiata addio. CD4 (Selected Signs VI): Andrey Dergatchev - Underwater; Andrey Dergatchev - In the Bedroom; Andrey Dergatchev - The Road; Andrey Dergatchev - Mugam; Andrey Dergatchev - Japan; Andrey Dergatchev - Port; Andrey Dergatchev - Rehearsal; Andrey Dergatchev - Piano; Andrey Dergatchev - Georgians; Andrey Dergatchev - Final Titles; Nils Petter Molvær - Khmer; Nils Petter Molvær - Tløn; Nils Petter Molvær - Access/Song of Sand I; Nils Petter Molvær - On Stream; Nils Petter Molvær - Platonic Years; Nils Petter Molvær - Plum; Nils Petter Molvær - Song of Sand II; Eivind Aarset - Close (For Comfort). CD5 (Selected Signs VII): Stefano Battaglia Trio - Euphonia Elegy; Food - Celestial Food; Tord Gustavsen Quartet - Prelude; Egberto Gismonti - Memoria e Fado (marrom); Norma Winstone Trio - Like a Lover; Norma Winstone Trio - Cradle Song; Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden - Carta de Amor; Ralph Alessi - Zone; Anja Lechner/Vassilis Tsabropoulos - Trois morceaux après des hymns byzantines I; Anja Lechner/Vassilis Tsabropoulos - Trois morceaux après des hymns byzantines II; Colin Vallon Trio - Telepathy; Christian Wallumrød Ensemble - Solemn Mosquitos; Christian Wallumrød Ensemble - Blop; Tomasz Stańko Quartet - Song for Ania. CD6 (Selected Signs VIII): Jimmy Giuffre 3 - Jesus Maria; Paul Bley/Evan Parker/Barre Phillips - Time Will Tell; Barre Phillips - Mountainscapes V; Old and New Dreams - Lonely Woman; Robin Williamson - The Four Points Are Thus Behind; Sinikka Langeland - Langt innpå skoga; Frode Haltli - Psalm; Gary Peacock - Voices from the Past; Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano - Spiritual; Wadada Leo Smith - Kulture of Jazz; Robin Williamson - The World.


CD1 (Selected Signs III): Ernst Stötzner: voice (1, 13); George Lewis: trombone (1, 13); Arto Lindsay: guitar (1, 13); Charles Hayward: drums (1); Steve Reich and Musicians (2); Gidon Kremer: violin (3, 4); Keith Jarrett: piano (3); Tatjana Grindenko: violin (4); Alfred Schnittke: prepared piano (4); Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Saulius Sondeckis: conductor (4); Márta Kurtág: piano (5, 6); György Kurtág: piano (6); Andreas Reiner: violin (7, 10); Simon Fordham: violin (7, 10); Helmut Nicole: viola (7, 10); Anja Lechner: violoncello (7, 10); Kim Kashkashian: viola (8); Philipp Jungk: percussion (8); Lea Avraham: voices on tape (8); Ilana Elia: voices on tape (8); Münchener Kammerorchester, Alexander Liebreich: conductor (8); Alexei Lubimov: piano (9); Meredith Monk: voice (12), synthesizer (12). CD2: (Selected Signs IV): Josef Bierbichler: voice (1); Ensemble Modern (1); Kim Kashkashian: viola (2); Orchester der Beethovenhalle Bonn, Dennis Russell Davies: conductor (2); The Choir and Orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music, Paul Goodwin: conductor (3); András Keller: violin (4); János Pilz: violin (4); Zoltan Gál: viola (4); Judit Szabó: violoncello (4); David James: countertenor (5, 6); Rogers Covey-Crump: tenor (5, 6); Steven Harrold: tenor (5, 6); Gordon Jones: baritone (5, 6); Jan Garbarek: soprano saxophone (6); Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, Dennis Russell Davies: conductor (7); Maacha Deubner: soprano (8); Anja Lechner: violoncello (8, 9); Silke Avenhaus: piano (8, 9). CD3 (Selected Signs V): Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone (1-12), wood flute (13), wind harp (13); Vangelis Christopoulos: oboe (1-12); Eleni Karaindrou: piano (1-12); Sergiu Nastasa: violin (1-14); Renato Ripo: violoncello (1-14); Stella Gadedi: flute (1-12); Marie-Cécile Boulard: clarinet (1-12); Sonia Pisk: bassoon (1-12); Vangelis Skouras: French horn (1-14); Socratis Anthis: trumpet (1-12); Maria Bildea: harp (1-14); Dinos Hadjiiordanou: accordion (1-12); Aris Dimitriades: mandolin (1-12); Camerata Orchestra, Alexandros Myral: conductor (1-12); Konstantinos Raptis: accordion (13, 14); Camerata Orchestra, Alexandros Myral: conductor (13, 14); Amina Alaoui: vocals (16, 17); Jon Hassell: trumpet (16, 17), electronics (16, 17); Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche: solo violin (16, 17); Jon Balke: keyboards (16, 17), conductor (16, 17); Helge Norbakken: percussion (16, 17); Pedram Khavar Zamini: zarb (16, 17); Barokksolistene, Bjarte Eike: violin (16, 17), conductor (16, 17); Rolf Lislevand: archlute (18-21), baroque guitar (18-21), theorboe (18-21); Arianne Savali: triple harp (18-21), voice (18-21); Bjørn Kjellemyr: colascione (18-21), double bass (18-21); Guido Morini: organ (18-21), clavichord (18-21); Marco Ambrosini: nyckelharpa (18-21); Thor-Harald Johnsen: chittara battente (18-21). CD4 (Selected Signs VI): Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet (12-18), guitar (12-18), bass guitar (12-18), percussion (12-18), samples (12-18); Eivind Aarset: guitars (12-19), treatments (12-18), talk box (12-18), bass guitar (19), electronics (19), percussion (19), samples (19), programming (19); Morten Mølster: guitar (12-18); Roger Luudvigsen: guitar (12-18), percussion (12-18), dulcimer (12-18); Rune Arnesen: drums (12-18); Ulf W.Ø. Holand: samples (12-18); Reidar Skår: sound treatment (12-18); Jan Bang: samples (19), dictaphone (19), programming (19). CD5 (Selected Signs VII): Stefano Battaglia: piano (1); Salvatore Maiore: double bass (1); Roberto Dani: drums (1); Thomas Strønen: drums (2), percussion (2), electronics (2); Iain Ballamy: saxophones (2), electronics (2); Christian Fennesz: guitar (2), electronics (2); Tord Gustavsen: piano (3); Tore Brunborg: tenor saxophone (3); Mats Eilertsen: double bass (3); Jarle Vespestad: drums (3); Egberto Gismonti: guitar (4, 7); Norma Winstone: voice (5, 6); Klaus Gesing: bass clarinet (5, 6), soprano saxophone (5, 6); Glauco Venier: piano (5, 6); Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone (7); Charlie Haden: double bass (7); Ralph Alessi: trumpet (8); Jason Moran: piano (8); Drew Gress: double bass (8); Nasheet Waits: drums (8); Anja Lechner: violoncello (9, 10); Vassilis Tsabropoulos: piano (9, 10); Colin Vallon: piano (11); Patrice Moret: double bass (11); Samuel Rohrer: drums (11); Christian Wallumrød: piano (12, 13), toy piano (12, 13); Eivind Lønning: trumpet (12, 13); Gjermund Larsen: violin (12, 13); Tanja Orning: cello (12, 13); Giovanna Pessi: baroque harp (12, 13); Per Oddvar Johansen: drums (12, 13), glockenspiel (12, 13); Tomasz Stańko: trumpet (14); Marcin Wasilewski: piano (14); Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double bass (14); Michal Miskiewicz: drums (14). CD6 (Selected Signs VIII): Jimmy Giuffre: clarinet (1); Paul Bley: piano (1, 2); Steve Swallow: double bass (1); Evan Parker: tenor saxophone (2); Barre Phillips: double bass (2, 3); John Surman: soprano saxophone (3), synthesizer (3); Dieter Feichtner: synthesizer (3); Stu Martin: drums (3); Don Cherry: trumpet (4); Dewey Redman: tenor saxophone (4); Charlie Haden: double bass (4); Ed Blackwell: drums (4); Robin Williamson: vocals (5, 11), harp (5); Paul Dunmall: tenor saxophone (5), bagpipes (5), ocarina (5); Ale Möller: hammered dulcimer (5), shawm (5); Mat Maneri: viola (5); Mick Hutton: double bass (5); Sinikka Langeland: vocals (6), kantele (6); Arve Henriksen: trumpet (6, 7); Tryge Seim: tenor saxophone (6); Anders Jormin: double bass (6); Markku Ounaskari: percussion (6); Frode Haltli: accordion (7); Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje: voice (7); Garth Knox: viola (7); Gary Peacock: double bass (8); Tomasz Stańko: trumpet (8); Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone (8); Jack DeJohnette: drums (8); Steve Kuhn piano (9); Joe Lovano: tarogato (9); David Finck: double bass (9); Joey Baron: drums (9); Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet (10), cymbals (10).

Album information

Title: Manfred Eicher: ECM - Selected Signs III - VIII | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: ECM Records

Post a comment about this album


Shop Amazon


A New Dawn
Marius Neset
Il Sogno
Chick Corea Akoustic Band with John Patitucci &...
Detail - 90
Frode Gjerstad / Kent Carter / John Stevens
Alex Jenkins Trio
Gaetano Letizia


Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective
The Garden
Rachel Eckroth
Uma Elmo
Jakob Bro

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.