Blue Notes: ECM releases material from the vault
ECM founder Manfred Eicher appears to have spent a fair part of last year sorting through boxes in the label's huge tape vault.
Having released more than 1,300 albums since making its debut with Mal Waldron's Free at Last in 1969, ECM has a long-established policy of documenting its artists both in the studio and in concert, with audiophile-quality recordings.
Some of its live albums - notably Keith Jarrett's 1975 Koln Concert - are classics, but there are many more concerts ECM recorded, also of excellent quality, which have never been released. Some are at last seeing the light of day on CD: Sleeper, a concert recording of Jarrett's 1970s European Quartet featuring saxophonist Jan Garbarek, drummer Jon Christensen and bassist Palle Danielsson, came out in August last year, more than three decades after it was recorded in Tokyo, in 1979.
A fine live recording of the ensemble which recorded 1974's Belonging, 1978's My Song and 1980's Nude Ants was hailed by John Kelman, writing for the All About Jazz website, as the "archival find of the year".
Another contender for that accolade would be Magico: Carta De Amor - a concert recording of a trio comprising Garbarek, bassist Charlie Haden and pianist/guitarist Egberto Gismonti. The ensemble made two earlier contributions to the ECM discography, 1979's Magico and 1981's Folk Songs - both are also worth hearing - but the performances on Magico: Carta De Amor are more adventurous.
The music here leans towards free jazz, with a good deal of experimentation from Gismonti, who uses his guitar as much as a percussive instrument as a chordal or melodic one. The 11 tracks, all recorded in Munich in 1981, are drawn from the Magico and Folk Songs albums, but also include compositions not otherwise recorded by the trio, including one from Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra's repertoire.
There is no leader here as such, but Gismonti is the dominant composer, contributing five pieces, including Carta De Amor, variations on which open and close the performance. Spor - the album's high point - has been considerably developed from the Magico version.
Gismonti's guitar work is more idiosyncratic and arresting than his piano playing, but he is no slouch at the keyboard either, as he demonstrates on Don Quixote and Haden's All That is Beautiful.
La Pasionaria first appeared on The Ballad of the Fallen, Haden's 1982 album with the Liberation Orchestra also for ECM, in a 10-minute version performed by a 12-piece band. Here the piece has been extended to 16 minutes with some flamenco-like guitar work from Gismonti and a concluding bass solo from Haden.
All the music is played with passion and intense concentration by three musicians overflowing with ideas, but also listening attentively, and taking care not to crowd each other out.
This is jazz improvisation of a high order, and it would be interesting now, more than 30 years later, to see the collaboration renewed. Haden, who had to cancel his appearance at last year's Hong Kong Arts Festival, seems to have recovered sufficiently to tour again: his website says new tour dates are "to be announced soon".
Three landmark albums in the careers of Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti and Charlie Haden.
- Dis (ECM, 1977): Garbarek playing wood flute and soprano and tenor saxophones is teamed with label mate Ralph Towner on 12-string and classical guitars, and also operating the wind harp that gives the album its eerie Nordic atmosphere. This record established Garbarek's saxophone as the sound of the fjords, and also as the glacial signature sound of ECM.
- Dança Das Cabecas (ECM,1977): a contemporaneous release to Dis, but one that could hardly be more different. Instead of Scandinavian cool this album is Amazonian rain forest heat, with all instruments played by Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos; they also sing. This was the first recording the two Brazilians made for ECM, and it established their careers in Europe.
- Beyond the Missouri Sky - Short Stories (Verve, 1996): a joint project for Haden with friend Pat Metheny on sitar, this album enjoyed unprecedented crossover success and won a Grammy for best jazz instrumental performance.