There's a subtle sophistication at work on Mats Eilertsen's ECM 'Rubicon' debut. His bass has already graced 12 previous ECM sessions of other artists as produced by Manfred Eicher, but now, just like Julius Caesar in 49 B.C., whose army crossed the Rubicon River knowing it was too late to turn back, Mats has laid the gauntlet down. His septet is rather wondrous. And there's no looking back.
The gongs, bells and metals that are hung by strings next to his piano make Glauco Venier's solo ECM 'Miniatures' debut something of a landmark recording. Solo piano is one thing, and Venier had to be well aware of the iconic performances of such already recorded on this legendary label. Thus, he wanted to add something: his own arsenal of percussive effects.
'The Music Of Weather Report' (ECM) lives on through its original bass player Miroslav Vitous who, with his new sextet, reprises six of his former band's glories, adding "Variations" to their tone, color, time signature, rhythmic thrust and title. In-between each variation are short haunting existential blues moments. Do not expect these reinventions to sound anything like the pioneering template set down by this most courageous of 1970s jazz-rock fusion bands.
Somewhere deep in the south of France last summer, French violinist Dominique Pifarely convened with legendary ECM guru Manfred Eicher to make his music more jazz-like. Combining Antonin Rayon's piano, Bruno Chevillon's double-bass and the scattershot drumming of the ingenious Francois Merville, 'Trace Provisoire' was born, the jazz was added, but the esoteric classical refrains lingered on.
Last year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) proclaimed Carla Bley, 80, a Jazz Master. This year sees the release of her highly-anticipated trio CD, 'Andando el Tiempo' (ECM) with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard, two leaders in their own right, who have kept this trio functioning for 20 years as Bley's main outlet for her compositions and piano playing.
Genius sometimes has its limitations. In the case of brilliant pianist Vijay Iyer and his self-admitted hero, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, you have to turn your insides out to get behind what they're laying down on 'A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke.' Usually, everything, and I mean everything, on this great German label headed by the esteemed Manfred Eicher, is worth worth listening to. Yet I had trouble with this one.
In 2013, Ralph Alessi's ECM debut as a leader, 'Baida,' gave Wayne Shorter's 'Without A Net' a run for its money as best of the year. The trumpeter has followed up 'Baida' with 'Quiver.' Gary Versace replaces Jason Moran on piano. The rhythm section of double bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits stays the same. But 'Quiver' ain't Baida. It's too gloomy.
Take one French bandleader/composer/double bassist in Michel Benita, add a Japanese koto player, a Swiss flugelhornist, a guitarist from Norway who also adds electronics and a French drummer and you have Ethics. 'River Silver' (ECM) cannot be categorized. I like to think of it as an instrumental folk CD but it's so much more.
The mournful sad tones of Avishai of the Cohens liken the leader to Miles Davis: muted, underscored with piano/bass/drums plus tenor sax, and filled with a longing that won't ever go away. The sibling Cohens of Israel-clarinetist/saxophonist sister Anat, sax man brother Yuval and trumpeter Avishai-could be construed to be like the Marsalis family of New Orleans, the Heaths of Philly or the Joneses of Detroit. The bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv was where they grew to fruition as The 3 Cohens Sextet. Now, with 'Into The Silence' (ECM), Avishai has put his grief over the death of their father into music.
Even though bassist/composer Michael Formanek's last two ECM CDs-'The Rub and Spare Change' (2010) and 'Small Places' (2012)-were very well-received, neither of them could possibly prepare you for the epic sounds that his Ensemble Kolossus makes on 'The Distance.'
Chamber music of the highest order, 'The Bell' (ECM) starts out with exactly that. Recorded in New York City, drummer Ches Smith performs on timpani and vibraphone before he ever even hits the skins. The esoteric, atmospheric 9:29 title tune melts into "Barely Intervallic" where Craig Taborn on piano and Matt Maneri on viola(!) serve as the most laid-back front line you're ever likely to hear. But wait.
For his sixth ECM album, 'In The Morning', Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia, 50, brings his trio with bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani to the music of American composer Alec Wilder [1907-1980] whose songs have been recorded by Peggy Lee, the Mills Brothers and Frank Sinatra. Wilder also composed chamber music, operas and wrote the scholarly tome 'American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950'.
For the first time in 19 years, ECM has released 2 Keith Jarrett CDs, a jazz project and a classical album. 'Creation' melds highlights of six solo piano performances into one seamless whole. 'Barber/Bartok/Jarrett' contains two concertos plus a quick goodbye.
Don't be put off by the ambient nature of British saxophonist Andy Sheppard's new quartet. He's added Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset to his existing Trio Libero, and for his third ECM CD, 'Surrounded By Sea,' he's gone totally atmospheric and haunting.