Jan Garbarek is, of course, one of ECM’s longest standing composers and saxophonists, yet he is first and foremost a spectacular improviser who often manages to reach farther than (I imagine) even his own expectations in touching new melodic concepts. Paired with the Spheres-like church organ of Kjell Johnsen, he plumbs the depths of spiritual and physical awareness in a way that few of his albums have since. Here more than anywhere else, he shapes reverberation into its own spiritualism, exploring every curve of his surrounding architecture, every carved piece of wood and masonry.
Fully 35 years after Open, to Love, Paul Bley's seminal solo piano recording for ECM (which stands as a watermark both in his own career and in the history of the label – i.e., unconsciously aiding Manfred Eicher in establishing its "sound"), the pianist returns to the label for another go at it on Solo in Mondsee. Recorded in Mondsee, Austria, in 2001, and not issued until Bley's 75th year, these numbered "Mondsee Variations" were played on a Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, an instrument that is, like its player, in a class of its own. Bley moves through ten improvisations lasting between two and just under nine minutes each.
Between March 2004 and May 2006 András Schiff performed the complete cycle of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas at the Tonhalle, Zürich, recorded and released by ECM New Series. This collection presents the encores from these concerts. What does one play after Beethoven sonatas? András Schiff: “For me it's essential not to seek entertainment but rather to look for pieces that are closely related to the previously heard sonatas.” The pianist explores links to Schubert, Mozart, Haydn and Bach. For all the interconnecting strands of musical history, András Schiff’s selection of encores also adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable ‘recital’ disc in its own right.
This double album, recorded in Vienna and in Riga in June 2015, includes all four of the chamber symphonies written in the last decade of Polish-born Soviet composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s life, plus a beautiful new arrangement – by Gidon Kremer and Kremerata percussionist Andrey Pushkarev – of the early Piano Quintet of 1944, heard here in a premiere recording. It is a recording which underlines the importance and originality of Weinberg’s music. For Gidon Kremer, “Weinberg has become a source of unlimited inspiration. No other composer has entered my own and Kremerata Baltica’s repertoire and program concepts with such intensity.” Weinberg’s chamber symphonies are Kremer says, “the most personal reflections of a great composer on his own life and his generation, like a diary of the most dramatic period of the 20th century.”
A year after his impressionistic, critically-lauded ECM debut Into The Silence, trumpeter Avishai Cohen s Cross My Palm With Silver introduces a program of new pieces which put the focus on the ensemble, on teamwork, with a quartet of the highest caliber. The adroit, almost telepathic interplay among the musicians allows Avishai Cohen to soar, making it clear why he is one of the most talked-about jazz musicians on the contemporary scene. All of these people together are my dream team , says the charismatic trumpeter of fellow players Yonathan Avishai, Barak Mori and Nasheet Waits, who share his sense for daring improvisation and his feeling for structure. I feel we're in a perfect place with the balance. It's open and there s so much room for the improvisation to take the music any place we can.
Armenian-American violist Kim Kashkashian, one of the major musical voices of ECM New Series, introduces a new duo with Russian composer-pianist Lera Auerbach. Their first recording together features Auerbach’s viola and piano version of Dmitri Shostakovich’s often playful 24 Preludes op. 34, and Auerbach’s own, darker, sonata for viola and piano, Arcanum. Lera Auerbach says, “Arcanum means ‘mysterious knowledge’, and I was fascinated by the inner voice within each of us, some may call it perhaps intuition, some maybe guided meditation, but there is some knowledge that we have, which we may not necessarily verbalize or rationalize, but that allows us to see the truth, to be guided, to seek answers.” Auerbach wrote her sonata for Kashkashian: “There is a quality of life-or-death-intensity to her performing, which is rare and wonderful.”
The second ECM New Series album to fully showcase pure-toned Estonian vocal group Vox Clamantis and its artistic director/conductor Jaan-Eik Tulve is devoted to compositions by their great countryman, Arvo Pärt – whose music has been the most performed globally of any living composer over the past five years. This album – titled The Deer’s Cry after its first track, an incantatory work for a cappella mixed choir – is also the latest in an illustrious line of ECM New Series releases to feature Pärt’s compositions, the very music that inspired Manfred Eicher to establish the New Series imprint in 1984.
Six trio selections by the Stanley Cowell Trio, featuring Stanley Clarke on bass and Jimmy Hopps on skins. Elastic and flowing best describe the mellow "Maimoun"; Cowell's crisp keyboarding is determined and feisty, and Clarke's dark, moody bass solo consummates the excursion. Cowell and Clarke display amazing technique on "Ibn Mukhtarr Mustapha," and Hopps' impressionistic drumming is head clearing.