A newly released book depicts the record company and phenomenon ECM. Judging by reviews it is a magnificent publication which balances the analytical with the anecdotal, and truly presents the aesthetic holism so essential to ECM
It is an opinion held my many that ECM –Edition of Contemporary Music- is the word’s most important label regarding jazz and contemporary music. And no-one can question ECM’s brilliant testimony as a concept and company; its more than 1000 releases and, most importantly, the crucial delineation of new parameters of sound and quality that the company has single-handily accomplished since its founding in 1969.
In light of this, the fact that Norwegian musicians and also Norwegian recordings and sound engineers have been instrumental in shaping the ECM sound and profile –of this there is no discussion- constitutes a brilliant verdict of Norwegian jazz and Norwegian musical innovation over the past forty years.
This is one of the important aspects thoroughly discussed and documented in “Horizons Touched.” A whole section of the book is dedicated to the instrumental position of the Nordic sound in the ECM saga. “Northbound: ECM and the idea of the north” discusses this sound and delineates the fact that it was Norwegian musicians that became the protagonists in the story of the unfolding of the “idea of the north”. Especially in the formative years of the company Norwegian musicians and recordings on Norwegian soil were constitutional.
As many people will recognize Jan Garbarek was perhaps the most important personae in this respect and the book underlines this with a long interview with Garbarek.
Other sections discuss other musicological aspects of ECM, each featuring in-depth discussion and interviews. But most attention is naturally paid to the founder and sole leader of the company Manfred Eicher. For ECM is the result of one man’s unique vision and his ability to seek out and encourage the music and musicians for the realization of this vision. And if one accepts the defining position of ECM, and its dependence on a single unwavering vision (or to put it more prosaically; one man’s taste) Eicher is to jazz what Robert Parker is to wine: a person in a unique position of influence, a leading light no less; a position unrivalled and largely unprecedented.
From the review of the book in All about Jazz:
“Eicher the auteur shapes each project as an extension of his focused aesthetic philosophy, while cultivating an unformulaic and exploratory mentality, which he brings out (or instills, as the case may be) in the artists he records. His approach remains rooted in the music—“just (the) music”—and the performance. “
There is no question that the phenomenon that is ECM, unique not just in music, but in art as such, has been condition by a unique mind and its capabilities. But it is just as true that the retrospective view of the ECM saga that “Horizons Touched” offers sets Norwegian jazz at the pinnacle of musical development in Europe.