World of Jazz – 14th July 2011 – Focus on the ECM record lable

ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) record label was founded in Munich,  in 1969 by Manfred Eicher. Best known for jazz music, ECM has released a wide variety of recordings, and the artists on the labels roster demonstrates with ease the capacity to blur the boundaries between genres.

ECM’s motto is “the Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence,” as evidenced by the selection of recordings released by the label.

  1. Dave Holland Quintet – Serenade – Points of View
  2. Edward Vesala Sound and Fury – Caccaroo Boohoo – Invisible Storm
  3. Misha Alperin – Etude – North Story
  4. Michael Formanek – Jack’s Last Call – The Rub and Spare Change
  5. Andy Sheppard – Bing – Movements in Colour
  6. Colin Wallcott – Cloud Dance – Cloud Dance
  7. Gary Peacock, Paul Motian, Paul Bley – Set Up Set – Not Two, Not One
  8. Bennie Maupin – The Jewel in the Lotus – The Jewel in the Lotus
To listen to the show click the link below
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any spare change for a rub, guv?

In a world full of programmed and pre-packaged musak how refreshing to hear something like this.

It’s jazz, and unapologetically so, but it’s modern as well. So, as well as references back to past masters – Monk and Mingus come to mind – there is also the brash innovation of today in the mix.

This is Michael Formanek’s début for ECM as a leader and it’s a stunner. He has a remarkable band here with current alto maestro Tim Berne taking a key role alongside keyboard whizz Craig Taborn. Drums are provided by the poly-rhythmic Gerald Cleaver who provides an excellent foil to Formaneks’ busy bass.

The opening “Twenty Three Neo”  starts in reflective ECM mode, almost outdoing Jan Garbarek at his own game, but quickly becomes a busy piece full of manic intensity – with Berne providing his trade mark in your face flurries of lines and riffs – and Taborn going all serial on the piano with nods to Cecil Taylor and the relentless repetition of “The Necks” Chris Abrahams. There is a good balance between the written parts of the music – in respect of the structure of the piece – and the improvisation that accompanies it. Imagine the middle bit of a Necks improv with an Alto over the top. Nice to hear Berne being so lyrical with his horn instead of his usual “laying waste to all around him” method (which I love by the way!)

All six pieces on the album merge into one another as a seamless whole so there is some dedication required to listen to the whole release at once to appreciate the programming and development of the music. The second piece – the title track – is a series of overlapping riffs intensely building over time to create a hypnotic groove. There are clear nods back to Berne’s Bloodcount – of which Formanek was a member – with the intense, in your face, playing which batters away at your senses. Taborn is at his most Monk-ish here – all percussive chords and jaunty rhythms.

Taborn’s solo about half way through “Inside the Box”  is impressive with a some wonderfully expressive drumming from Cleaver. Formanek and Berne hold the line with the long and complex riffing melody. “Jack’s Last Call” slows the pace as piano, bass and drums develop a wonderful interplay – Taborn’s playing on this is superb – both brutal and elegiac at the same time. The leader creates an underlying sense of tension with busy bass runs.

The longest piece on the set is the seventeen minute “Tonal Suite” which consists of three distinct parts. A relaxed walking bass leads into a complex interplay between Berne and Taborn. Complex melodic lines are played out over a rolling beat. This builds to a climax and then falls away to a light section which features some frentic fingerwork from Taborn over expressive drums from Cleaver.  The piece concludes with an extended section which exorcises a few demons with its para-bop sensibilities.

The closer “Too Big To Fail” is a huge noisy rhythmical affair, ostensibly about the global economic situation, and it would appear that a great deal of inner tension abourt same is being exorcised by the players on this track – it’s great way to close the album.

A fabulous album rich in musical complexity.