The rundown of ECM Records ain’t over yet


We really need to have a talk about ECM Records.


Jakob Bro – Returnings

One of the qualities that made Jakob Bro‘s Balladeering trilogy so arresting was his willingness to be the wing man for the melodic desires of collaborators like Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz and Craig Taborn.  The guitarist can see an epic story of possibilities from the simple thesis statement of a melodic image, and that multi-perspective approach is what allowed him to simultaneously enhance and contrast his counterparts as they steered the ship (in their way).  It’s a big reason that Bro’s latest is so successful.  Palle Mikkelborg‘s trumpet beams through like moonlight, and Bro happily makes it sparkle in all the right places.  Bassist Thomas Morgan was there for those Balladeering triology recordings, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he syncs up with Bro seamlessly.  Morgan was also there for Bro’s ECM Records release Gefion, as was drummer Jon Christensen…  a modern master at setting down a rhythmic atmosphere where serenity thrives and volatility is allowed to flourish from time to time.  And it does, thankfully.  Title-track “Returnings” dishes out some heat and some dissonance, and some necessary context for all the beauty that came before.  Bro is one of my favorite guitarists on the scene.  Each new album is something more to treasure.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Kristjan Randalu – Absence

Oh my god, this is gorgeous.  And it’s on fire.  The beauty is multi-faceted and looks to scatter in all directions.  It’s the blossoming plume of fireworks in the sky as reflected on the rippled surface of the ocean.  Pianist Kristjan Randalu and guitarist Ben Monder just keep coaxing new and exciting facets out of each melody, while drummer Markku Ounaskari keeps a steady current of electricity spurring everything forward, no matter how many directions it breaks in.  The lulls and surges in pacing just make things that much more dramatic.  Randalu and Monder put out the duo album Equilibrium a handful of years ago, and you can hear the seeds of Absence in it, but this is a diamond with an entirely different shine.  Their sympatico relationship isn’t new to Absence, but its rewards are so much greater.  I’m pretty well addicted to this recording.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Arild Andersen – In-house Science

I mean no offense to tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith or drummer Paolo Vinaccia, but I’d have been just fine had Arild Andersen put out a solo album.  I can’t say that about many bassists, even those I adore the most, but there is something about the deep resonance of Andersen’s bass tones that just pulls me right in and leaves me captivated as he prowls down a melody.  It was his 1997 release Hyperborean that first riveted my attention in place.  Ironically, it was a large ensemble affair, but something how Andersen’s bass would suddenly emerge from the thick harmonic fog of a string section made me a fan for life before my first listen of one of his albums was complete.  Now, with that out of the way, his trio sessions with Smith and Vinaccia have floated my boat previously.. specifically their 2008 release Live at Belleville.  Their newest effort, In-house Science, is also a live one, this time around in Bad Ischl, Austria.  It’s no less wonderful.  My favorite moments in this session are the same from the Belleville performance… when Andersen and Smith swiftly trade melodic flurries along the back of Vinaccia’s galloping tempos.  It’s exciting as hell, and enchanting like mad in the way the melodies patiently develop at high speeds.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette – After the Fall

This is a new release, but it’s not new music.  After the Fall was recorded back in 1998 at a live performance in Newark, New Jersey.  Pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette are three of the greatest jazz musicians ever.  This is a pleasant album.  There’s nothing particular notable or monumental about its release.  It wasn’t some legendary performance believed to go unrecorded and it wasn’t a one-time collaboration of three jazz giants.  It’s a pleasant live session and it’s nice that ECM decided to get it out there.  My introduction(s) to Jarrett’s music came in the form of more unconventional sounds, so sometimes I find it a bit underwhelming to hear him in a straight-ahead jazz session.  But then his immaculate lyricism shines through, and I’m reminded just how special the guy is.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.


Nicolas Masson – Travelers

There are times that Nicolas Masson syncs up with the trio of pianist Colin Vallon, bassist Patrice Moret and drummer Lionel Friedli, and it’s always when the saxophonist settles into the prevailing serenity instilled by Vallon over the session.  But when Masson wants to go flying with a great flutter of wings, a fracture appears straight down the center of the piece, and it feels like two different visions welded together into a single album.  That doesn’t cause any great ruination, but it does leave something of a dissatisfying aftertaste.  On piano, Vallon has repeatedly shown a talent for conveying the immensity of a storm with nothing more than a whisper.  It’s an atmosphere that has to be respected, and when there’s a deviation, everything seems out of sorts.  Masson’s desire to leap through the air or paint a thick melody upon the surface of the song just doesn’t snap neatly into place.  And it goes a long way to illustrating why his trio with guitarist Roberto Pianca and drummer-pianist Emanuele Maniscalco worked so well.  The duo had a way of drawing the map of the song while adapting freely to veer off trail in a way the complemented Masson’s lyricism.  There’s some powerful moments on Travelers, but they come in small doses.

Learn more at ECM Records.  Available at Amazon.