ECM Now Available For Streaming – And A Review of Manu Katchés Album Neighbourhood

ECM Records

ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is one of the most legendary Jazz (and classical) labels out there. Founded by Manfred Eicher back in 1969, it really has been able to tailor a very specific profile.

Having world class artists like Keith Jarrett obviously helped, but today you could really argue that ECM has a kind of “house” sound. The immediately recognizable abstract, typically dark album covers make ECM very distinctive.

And we are not only talking about Jazz, the album has done some fantastic classical (and contemporary classical) recordings as well, e.g. with the fantastic Andras Schiff.

You will find quite a number of ECM albums on my blog (just enter ECM in the free text search on the sidebar), or check out my 25 Essential Jazz albums, which features 2 ECM albums.

Streaming

I personally see the major arrival of streaming with two different viewpoints.

From a consumer perspective, the possibility to access music for a “flat rate” in an unlimited way is just fantastic. The big platforms such as Spotify offer more than 30M titles. Remember the old days when there were record stores, and having more than 250 albums was considered a huge library (not surprising, given that one would have spent typically more than $3,000-5,000 to assemble such a physical treasure). Today, $120 per year gets you full access. I’ve personally joined the streaming bandwagon quite late, only about 2 years ago (around the time when I started this blog).

Streaming for me now is a fantastic tool to discover new music. All new albums just show up online, and you can sample as much as you want.

Now, what are the downsides?

First of all, streaming really made the concept of an “album” pretty redundant. Admittedly, the iTunes story that for the first time allowed the purchase of individual “songs” (which is by the way a completely inappropriate name for a piece of classical music, I prefer the term “Track”), but basically, since Spotify the album has often been replaced by individualized playlists.

True, the concept of a “mix tape” (remember those) pre-dates the idea of a playlist, but these were pretty hard work to get done.

Now, is the demise of the album a bad thing? Maybe not. In Jazz, suprisingly, the album still seems to be highly relevant, and in classical music the “album” concept never made a lot of sense anyhow, forcing the record companies to sometimes randomly bundle classical works just to fill the 70+ minutes of capacity. I have more versions e.g. of the Academic Festival Overture that I care for, as this was (to this day, see here) a typical “filler” piece.

Secondly, streaming typically means compressed sound quality. The MP3 standard invented to squeeze more music into less memory space is also pretty much universal now these days for streaming, which means quite a lot of musical information simply gets thrown out. This doesn’t matter if you listen with $5 Apple earbuds, but if you have a good music system, you will be missing out. To this day, there are only two streaming services, Qobuz (France) and TIDAL (US), that stream in lossless CD quality or even higher (MQA for Tidal, up to 24/192 for Qobuz). Unfortunately, except for some hifi nerds like me, nobody cares about this any more, therefore, both TIDAL and Qobuz still are losing money.

Thirdly, and much more important, it is still very much unclear how artists are supposed to live of streaming. Artists, depending on the streaming service, get amounts in the cent range of even less per play. That may be ok if you’re called Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but for a small Jazz or classical artist, the revenues generated here are literally just peanuts, and much less attractive than selling albums.

Therefore, on top of my spend for the streaming service of choice (Qobuz in my case), I also tend to purchase those albums that I really care about to support the artist, and you really should do as well, if you want the artist to survice and continue to create the beautiful music we all crave.

In summary, I can understand why ECM (like some other labels, e.g. Hyperion) decided for years not to make their content available for streaming. Well, they’ve finally changed their mind, citing as the main reason the fact that the first priority is that the music should be heard.

Well, we can all agree on that, but let’s not forget, artists need to make a living!

Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (ECM 2005)

After this very long parenthesis, let’s use this occasion to dig a bit into the ECM back catalogue.

And let’s start with an excellent Jazz album by French drummer Manu Katché, Neighbourhood.Manu Catch Neighbourhood ECM 2005 24/96,

Katché (with origins in France and the Ivory Coast) actually isn’t your typical Jazz drummer. He is an outstanding studio musician that has played a lot of pop/rock as well.

The first time I ever saw him was admittedly in a much more “low-brow” context, when I was watching Nouvelle Star, the French version of Pop IdolAmerican Idol on French television.

But this album is 100% Jazz. You would have thought so when you look at the line-up: Tomasz Stanko! Jan Garbarek! Marcin Wasilewski! Slawomir Kurkiewicz! (for one of my favorite albums of the two latter, check out my post about My Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop Songs).

It starts extremely strong, with November 99, my favorite song of the album. Wasilewski starts a dreamy piano improvisation, when Katché joins him, followed by Kurkiewicz on bass. You immediately get in the fantastic slow groove that makes this song so hypnotic. I can listen to this song over and over again, and never get tired. Stanko (trumpet) and Garbarek (saxophone) don’t even feature on this song, it is a pure trio performance (maybe that’s why I like it so much…).

The horns only get to join in track number 2, Number One. You’ll immediately recognize the signature Garbarek sound (e.g. from the great Keith Jarrett album My Song, see also here). Stanko joins later. And again, in this song, Katchés nearly hypnotic drive is really what makes this album so special.

Another favorite of mine is the ballad February Sun, where Stanko sounds better than Chet Baker.

Overall, a highly enjoyable album. Check it out (and buy it if you like it!)

My rating: 4 stars (the opening track is 5 stars to me)

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

A Multitude Of Angels – A review of the “new” Keith Jarrett solo album recorded by Jarrett himself

Ah, yet another blog post that starts with me complaining that I’m not writing often enough. I guess you don’t care about my excuses, so let me just say I really try to improve the frequency of my writing. So let’s stop whining and get into it.

A New Keith Jarrett Recording?

So, a new Keith Jarrett album! Out of the blue (at least to me)! Very nice surprise obviously for a blog that has Jarrett in the sub-title.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I personally find the title quite cheesy (although Jarrett is very serious about it in the liner notes), and the cover even more so (which is sad given that I do quite like the general ECM sober cover style).

But let’s face it, you won’t buy this album for the title nor the cover, but for the music.

And we’re talking about A LOT of music. Should you decide to buy this on CD (do people still do this?), you’ll get 5 of them, should you decide to download, you may initially be disappointed to get only 12 files, but you’re still getting 4h57 for your money!

A Multitude Of Angels (ECM 2016)

Keith Jarrett A Multitude Of Angels Modena Ferrara Torino Genova Solo Concerts ECM 2016

So where is this album all over sudden coming from? Well unfortunately it doesn’t comprise any recent concerts, like the one in Lucerne I attended a year and a half ago (I know they were recording that, so I hope it will eventually be released).

In this case, we’re talking about 20 year old material. These are live recordings from four concerts in Northern Italy, as you see from the cover specifically Modena, Ferrara, Torino, and Genova, all in October 1996.

We were lucky, at the time, Jarrett hat a DAT recorder (one of the earliest portable digital recording techniques) and some microphones with him and was taping his own concerts.

In the liner notes, Jarrett explains that he’s listened to these recordings many times and claims them to be “a pinnacle in his career”. Lucky for us, we finally get to share this pleasure.

How do you describe 5 hours of improvised music?

Well to make it short, I don’t even try. Let me just summarize my impressions: These are indeed beautiful recordings. Are these to my ears the pinnacle of Jarrett’s career? I personally wouldn’t go as far. We’re still in the “old days” of Jarrett’s concerts with long 40 min uninterupted playing, very shortly before he had to take a break for health reasons. While there really is a lot to love here, my only point of criticism would be that sometimes I’d have liked a bit more stylistic variability.

So if you’re a first time Jarrett solo concert buyer, and you won’t get the cheap price on Qobuz (see last paragraph), you may want to go for some other concerts first, like the legendary Köln, or Bremen Lausanne. But if you like Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts, this one is clearly one to go for.

My rating: 4 stars.

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Amazon)

 

Recommended: Julia Hülsmann Trio – Imprint

The Jazz Piano Trio

I’ve said it before, we really do live in the Golden Age of the Jazz Piano trio (actually, I’ve even started a discussion thread on this prior to starting this blog, see here (http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f15-music-general/are-we-living-golden-age-jazz-piano-trio-18603/)

Women in Jazz?

Are we living in the Golden Age for female Jazz musicians? Probably not yet. Traditionally, in Jazz women were pretty much set to the role of singer. If they could play the piano, even better (e.g. Nina Simone, Diana Krall, or more recently Sarah McKenzie), all fine, but go find a female instrumentalist, and you’ll have a much harder time. Carla Bley, Hiromi, Maria Schneider, and that’s were my list (from memory) ends.

Hold on, there is one more (actually 2-3 more, watch this space for future articles):

Julia Hülsmann

Julia Hülsmann, German, is one of these exceptions (and actually, has studies with Maria Schneider in the past).

Her regular trio is featuring two other excellent musicians, Mark Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Köbberling on drums.

I discovered her during the release concert of her album Imprint at Moods in Zurich, back in 2011, and this album to this day remains my favorite one of her.

Since then I’ve also seen her play live with Theo Bleckmann music from her latest release of Kurt Weill music (to be reviewed another time) at Nochtspeicher in Hamburg.

Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (ECM 2011)

Julia Hülsmann Trio Imprint ECM 2011

Imprint is her second album on ECM after the equally exciting The End Of Summer. 

My favorite tracks are Grand Canyon, with a great rhythmic drive,  Zahlen bitte, which starts with a great drum solo by Köbberling, and Ulmenwall. The album is typical ECM house style, very lyrical, and very well recorded.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz), and here (HDtracks)

Easy Living: My Favorite Enrico Rava Album

Enrico Rava

In my previous post on Enrico Pieranunzi I was asked about other Italian artists I like, and José in his comment listed among others Enrico Rava. This is what triggered this blog post.

Well, first of all, my initial answer is that Rava has a beautiful sound, a very soft, dreamy voice, that I really like.

With regards to his recorded albums, I’m more torn, as I don’t have a single album with Rava in the lead of which I love every single track. I’ll explain further below why.

That said, without doubt Rava is one of the leading figures of the Italian Jazz scene.

I have about 10 albums of Rava in my collection, and would like to present here what overall is my favorite Rava album: Easy Living

Easy Living (ECM 2003)

Why this particular album?

Well, first of all, Easy Living is one of my favorite standards (I originally fell in love with Sarah Vaughan singing it). And Rava does a gorgeous version of this song here.

Enrico Rava Easy Living ECM 2003

Second, Stefano Bollani.

I’ve previously written about him and how much I appreciate his piano playing, and he’s also one of the factors why I particularly appreciate this album. Take his solo on track 8, Hornette and the Drum Things and you’ll understand why.

Track 1, Chromosomi, is already a great start. It sets the scene for an album that is generally meditative, dreamy, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning like this one (as I write it, it has started to snow outside, and this song sounds like the perfect soundtrack for watching the  falling snowflakes).

Now to explain, as already mentioned above, what I don’t like about certain Rava songs, let’s take the example of Traveling Night (track 7). I’ve written time and time over again, how much I need melodies. My brain is just wired that way.

I actually like Rosario Bonaccorso’s bass solo, and then Roberto Gatto and Stefano chiming in the same mood. But then I get lost in rhythmic and harmony changes, and my little brain never finds its way out again, it just feels to random.

I’ve had this discussion with Jazz musicians, and for some of them, when it gets more random and adventurous, this is when music really starts getting interesting, for some others, this is when it starts to lose interest. I’m not arguing quality here, but just personal preference.

One special thing to mention on this album is the beautiful complementarity between Rava and Gianluca Petrella on trombone.

This album is recorded by ECM, and therefore, as usual, the recording quality is really good.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

 

3 Hours Of Timeless Beauty – Keith Jarrett Bregenz München

What do Bregenz and Munich have in common? Not a lot on paper, the nice Austrian town on Lake Constance and the Bavarian capital, in spite of the fact that they are only about 2h away from each other by car.

So why bother writing about them here? Well, you’ll have guessed it already, Keith Jarrett gave one of his famous solo concerts in both places.

And as promised previously, I plan to eventually review all the Jarrett solo concert recordings (fun fact, it’s been nearly 6 month ago that I attended one myself for the first time and started this blog, see my post here)

Bregenz München (ECM 1981/2013)

These recordings date from 1981, i.e. 6 years after the famous Köln Concert. Jarrett by then had developed a clear style for his concerts, and these recordings show that he developed already a certain maturity.

Keith Jarrett Concerts Bregenz München ECM

Bregenz comes first: Part 1 starts swinging, with nearly a ragtime feel occasionally. After 10 minutes he slows down, into a more melancholic mood.

I just love the flowing passage around 15:00, that turns much heavier around 17:30. At around 19 he become more rhythmic, using the piano’s body regularly as percussion.

Part II keeps the rhythm, driven by the left hand, and the percussion elements. All this at a faster pace. At some time we even get Calypso elements.

Bregenz Heartland is one of my favorites on this album. As said before I’m a sucker for melodies. And luckily Jarrett on his encores nearly always delivers.

And the good news is: Munich gets even better. This concert is longer, in 4 parts, and 2 encores, including another one title Heartland, again astonishingly beautiful. I’m going to spare you a more detailed description, you get that I like it very much.

Keith Jarrett has a long history of playing classical music, and you can hear it here.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album and very much worth having.

My rating: 4 stars (compared to the very high standards of Jarrett’s solo concerts, actually I’m on the edge of giving this 5 stars, and may revisit my rating after formally reviewing more of his solo albums, but so far, I’d probably still prefer Köln, Bremen Lausanne, and Sun Bear).

You can find it here (Highresaudio) or here (HDtracks)

Keith Jarrett: La Scala

Keith Jarrett’s Live Albums

Keith Jarrett and his solo piano concerts are legendary.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, his Köln Concert is the best-selling solo and piano album in the history, with more than 3.5M albums sold. This may not be much by Taylor Swift standards, but for Jazz, where albums usually selling a some thousands of albums, this number is just mind-boggling.

And what is probably even more mind-boggling is that the Köln Concert is not a one hit wonder, but Jarrett has turned out dozens of solo concert albums in the last thirty years, and usually nearly all of them are worth having.

I’ve started this blog writing about the lucky chance I had to see Jarrett live earlier this year, and it is truly an outstanding experience.

In my 25 Essential Jazz albums post, I’ve promised to myself that I’ll eventually review all of his live solo albums.

This will be a challenging task, but well, you’ve got to have ambitions in life. Let’s see how long this journey is going to take.

La Scala (ECM 1997)

Every journey has got to start somewhere. I rather randomly chose La Scala for a start. Why? Well, the cover is beautiful, and it is probably one of the lesser known albums.

La Scala was recorded (you would have guessed) in Milan’s famous opera house, in 1995, and released in 1997. Apparently, this is the first time a solo jazz concert was hosted in these illustrious walls.

Keith Jarrett La Scala ECM 1997

The formal structure of the concert is very simple, you have “Part I” (approx 45 min) and Part II, adding 28 more minutes.

Part I evolves very slowly over time. it reminds me of a large river maeandering slowly and majestically. You have time to let your mind wander around while listening to this. In a way, this nearly becomes meditation music, but this is Jarrett, so you can rest assured that you won’t get bored, instead you just keep floating with the river.

Part II starts a bit randomly. This is the style I personally don’t really like that much, I just get lost without a clear melody and rhythm. Well luckily for me he doesn’t overdo the randomness, and structure reemerges rather quickly after around 4 minutes or so. Unlike part I, this part has some much faster flows, and while part I was focused on chords, here you often just get a chain of individual notes. Around 10 min in, the character changes again, chords reappear, and a melodic structure reemerges.

And in my personal opinion, he’s really saving the best for last. The encore is “Over the Rainbow”, in a very simple, minimalistic approach. I’ve mentioned previously how much I love this song, and I’m not disappointed here either.

My rating: 4 stars (not the most essential of Jarrett’s solo albums, but we’re really talking from a very high standard here, this is still better than 95% of other solo piano albums out there).

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (HDTracks)

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Ground – Atmospheric Trio Jazz from Norway

ECM

Enough ink has been spilled on Manfred Eicher’s outstanding Jazz label from Munich, Germany. He obviously was smart enough to land a superstar like Keith Jarrett, but they’ve been such an important driving force for contemporary jazz (and classical music) that you owe it to yourself to check out each new ECM release. To be fair, for me their output is hit and miss, on average every 2nd album I just love, every other is not my cup of tea. But I never regret checking them out.

Tord Gustavsen

Like Helge Lien (reviewed here), Tord Gustavsen comes from Norway. That, plus the fact that they both won an important Norwegian Jazz award, is probably the only apparent commonality between the two (plus the fact that they both have played with Silje Nergaard at some point, probably a mandatory rite of passage for Norwegian jazz pianists).

Lien is much more energetic, and experimental. Gustavsen in his arrangements in a way represents the typical ECM house sound, atmospheric, sometimes a bit detached, and extremely well recorded.

He has released a number of albums, mostly in trio, but also more recently with Saxophone, however, this 2004-5 album remains my favorite album of his.

The Ground

The Ground was Gustavsen’s 2nd ECM album, after the equally beautiful Changing Places, which gave him quite some visibility.

His style is really the opposite of what was developed by Esbjörn Svensson Trio, his neighbor from Sweden. It is very minimalistic, laid back. He has been called “the Satie of Jazz”. This is music to savor late at night, with a glass of single malt (I’d recommend a Caol Ila 12).

Critics around the globe mainly loved this album, calling the music “shimmering” (the Village Voice), and quoting the ” liquid, flowing quality of his motion” (AllAboutJazz). You did find some critical voices as well, usually finding this a little bit too laid back, or some even called it boring.

Tord Gustavsen Trio The Ground 24 96 ECM 2005

Well, obviously if you want high energy jazz that brings you to the edges of contemporary creativity, look elsewhere. But if you, like me, appreciate the ECM sound, this album is really worth checking out.

Actually, I’m a big fan of the very minimalistic and modern ECM cover art in general, but on this particular album they really nailed it. The blue, unfocused feeling you get from the cover is exactly what the music will do with you. You’ll get lost in space and time (the Caol Ila certainly helping….).

Note that the recording quality of this album is truly outstanding, so if you have a good hi-fi, you’ll enjoy it twice as much.

My rating: 4 stars

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (Gubemusic)