A brief round-up of recent ECM Records releases (Part II)


So, here’s some quick hits on a handful of the albums released on the ECM Records label thus far in 2014.  It’s not comprehensive.  It’s just the ones I felt like talking about.  This is Part II.  Part I posted yesterday (LINK).

Let’s begin…


Louis Sclavis Quartet – Silk and Salt Melodies

Louis Sclavis Quartet - "Silk and Salt Melodies"Clarinetist Louis Sclavis establishes a mesmerizing tone right from the start and doesn’t relinquish it.  Guitarist Gilles Coronado‘s contribution is straight from the School of Frisell, with his eerie tunefulness and sensibly restrained bursts of heat.  Pianist Benjamin Moussay put out some compelling and undeservedly under-the-radar recordings in the last decade that fully embraced the New Piano Trio mode of expression, and that approach to melodic craftsmanship and harmonic focus serve as a nifty counterbalance to the twisting, curving melodic lines of clarinet and guitar.  Percussionist Keyvan Chemirani adds an earthy element to the quartet’s otherwise lofty sound, which further expands this album’s lovely personality.


Stefano Bollani – Joy in Spite of Everything

Stefano Bollani - "Joy in Spite of Everything"Pleasant enough recording by pianist Stefano Bollani, who brings a strong line-up to this session with guitarist Bill Frisell, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Morten Lund and the double bass of Jesper Bodilsen.  In fact, considering the strength of this line-up, it’s disappointing that Bollani didn’t do more with this session.  It just doesn’t digress much from past recordings, which is a shame, because the creative talent at his disposal could’ve led to some amazing work.  An enthralling track like “Ismene” gives some insight into the possibilities of what this album might’ve been.  Same with “Tales From the Time Loop,” which flashes some sharp teeth to go along with its enchanting melodic shadowplay.  Not warning you off from this, just saying it doesn’t live up to its (very big) promise.


Vijay Iyer – Mutations

Vijay Iyer - "Mutations"I do appreciate Vijay Iyer‘s avid approach to new projects and new sounds.  His debut on ECM sees him doing a solo piano thing, but pairing up occasionally with a string quartet and augmenting his sound with some looping and effects.  The pairing of Iyer and ECM was almost a natural.  So much of Iyer’s previous music was an intellectual mainline and any emotional resonance was simply an aftereffect of cerebral overload.  ECM, in general, is more thought-provoking than it is heart-pounding, and so it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch that the label found Iyer a home.  Unfortunately, the pairing doesn’t work as well as one might have anticipated.  It has its moments (“Mutations III: Canon” is gorgeous), but the introspection gets a bit too thick at times, leading to some lifeless passages that border on dull and others that just fall out of focus.  Still, it’s nice to see Iyer take on a project such as this.  It might not have yielded the best results, but there is something supremely admirable about an artist following their muse.  If you’re new to Iyer, start with something else of his, perhaps 2012’s Accelerando.  But if you’ve been onto Iyer’s music for some time, you really gotta pick this one up.  Following an artist’s career path requires being there for every step along the way, otherwise you miss out on those breathless moments when they effect a transformation that reveals a massive creative vision… the best way to appreciate those moments are by viewing them in the wide expanse of their career.


Billy Hart Quartet – One is the Other

Billy Hart - "One is the Other"Veteran drummer Billy Hart floors a strong team of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Ben Street, and saxophonist Mark Turner.  Unfortunately, they rarely sound united.  A song like “Yard” is a prime example where each member of the quartet are on the same page, yet the music never coalesces, coming off as focused but detached, leaving the sense that each part was played individually by musicians out of sight from one another in separate studio rooms.  “Teule’s Redemption” is one of those tracks where the quartet glues, and their teamwork pays off with a song that has emotional shifts locked within a singular point of view.  “Sonnet for Stevie” also sees the quartet meshing, especially in the flow from one solo to the next.  But there’s not enough of those moments, especially when taking into account the talent level and their familiarity with one another from past collaborations.


Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven

Mark Turner - "Lathe of Heaven"I like this album’s mix of relentlessness and lyricism.  It’s a combination that results in a heavy, lumbering motion, yet remains in possession of a graceful fluidity that is fun to watch (listen).  Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner is in a creatively fertile stretch right now, and his productivity is matching it, so anything he appears on these days should probably be considered a must-buy.  This quartet session sees him joined by trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Marcus Gilmore.  It’s especially enjoyable the way each quartet member seems to be doing their own thing while keeping to the agreed-upon game plan… it creates a nice tension as structure and free will vie for control.  “Ethan’s Line” is a good example of that.


Anja Lechner & François Couturier – Moderato Cantabile

Anja Lechner, Francois Couturier - "Moderato Cantabile"This one is actually from ECM’s classical series, but this duo performance of cellist Anja Lechner and pianist François Couturier is so damn beautiful, I just had to get in a quick mention of this recording before ending the column.  This is the kind of sublime music that gets both mind and soul on the path to a day of peacefulness, and has quickly become a staple of my early morning listening routine.


Retail Link:  ECM Records at Amazon