A brief round-up of what’s new on ECM Records


Here is some very good new music.


Maciej Obara Quartet – Unloved

It’s pretty cool seeing alto saxophonist Maciej Obara get opened up to wider recognition on the ECM Records label.  Previously, this site has covered his albums on For-Tune Records with the ensembles Obara International and Power of the Horns.  On his Obara International recording Komeda, the sound lived inside the hurricane but would occasionally vacation in the eye of the storm.  On Unloved, the equation is flipped.  And while there are moments on this recording that succumb to the possibility of combustion, it spends more time in moodier, peaceful territory.  This isn’t a bad thing by any means, as it allows facets of melodicism to emerge that might not otherwise be as evident under more volatile conditions.  Obara’s quartet are familiar faces with pianist Dominik Wania, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams

Anouar Brahem has been responsible for some of the more spellbinding music over the last couple of decades.  The Tunsian oud player has a talent for combining folk, jazz and chamber in a way that is both blissfully serene and casually friendly.  Perhaps most remarkable of all is that one album can sound noticeably different from the next, even though it’s apparent he’s working with the same ingredients and the same approach.  Perhaps it’s that different but familiar quality that makes Brahem’s music so personable and easy to connect with.  On his newest, he brings back old collaborators and new, with bassist Dave Holland, pianist Django Bates and drummer Jack DeJohnette.  Unsurprisingly, with this line-up, the jazz influence is the primary mover on this nifty session, which is a nice change of pace.  That said, Brahem’s voicing on oud certainly isn’t going to allow any session to wander into straight-ahead territory, and the pieces on Blue Maqams are no less a potent enchantment than anything else he’s released.  So, if you’ve enjoyed past Brahem recordings, you can safely hit the download button on his newest and expect to be equally happy.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over

Vijay Iyer really lets himself loose on his fifth album for ECM Records.  Steve Lehman shaping a melody is like watching an icicle form on fast forward… the saxophonist infuses the strange twists and bends with an elegance that makes the improbable logical. That Iyer is able to incorporate that quality into a groove-heavy track like “Nope” is an extraordinary characteristic on an enjoyable album.  And then there’s the intriguing twist of Iyer switching over to Fender Rhodes for the fusion-heavy “End of the Tunnel” and how the melody of “For Amiri Baraka” has a pop song simplicity and yet resonates with the common magic of a sunset.  And don’t overlook “Down to the Wire” and “Good on the Ground” and the way explosive solos and an elusive groove echo those exact moments when a Hard Bop tune decided it wanted to be more free.  Plenty here to like, including a strong line-up of cornetist Graham Haynes, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, double bassist Stephan Crump, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim and alto saxophonist Steve Lehman.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Aaron Parks – Find the Way

The latest from pianist Aaron Parks is a nice example of how understated music can still be a hotbed for activity.  Exhibit A is drummer Billy Hart and how he delicately rattles the tempo off the surface of melodic plumes issuing forth from piano.  Exhibit B is bassist Ben Street and how he shifts in and out of phase with Parks’ rhythmic footfalls.  And then there’s Parks himself, who continues to show a talent for infusing a moody ambiance with a melodic depth that cuts to the heart of the matter, giving direction to music that might otherwise prefer just to drift aimlessly.  Fair warning that the song “Unravel” is potentially addictive.

Stream an album track on the artist’s site.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


David Virelles – Gnosis

This album effects a convergence of Cuba and NYC, and neither music influence is left unchanged.  The clash between a chamber music sparseness and Cuban folk flow is as dramatic as the sky during a full eclipse, as is the resultant tension of one aspect seeking ascension over the other.  This large ensemble offering from pianist David Virelles guides an ensemble heavy on percussion and strings through pieces with an improvisational streak and a classical framework.  At times this music seems impenetrable and yet there are passages as easy to welcome as a gentle, incoming tide.  Gnosis is a challenging work, for both listener and creator alike.  But the arc of Virelles’s recording career seems tailor-made for this kind of step up… pairing up on projects with Tomas Stanko and Chris Potter while also pulling Henry Threadgill and Alexander Overington into his orbit on other projects speaks to exactly the reason Virelles is able to bring about a convergence between seemingly divergent paths.  A seriously compelling work.

Read more at ECM Records. Available at Amazon.