preconceptions, generalizations and stereotypes often lead you astray. i've always had this notion of what "the ECM sound" is all about -- clarity in sound production values, austerity in performance values -- but these characterizations, however accurate, do not automatically yield kenny g no matter how much one might be inclined to think they do. after all, ECM is the label that mainstreamed the art ensemble of chicago; after seeing the AEC for the first time at the cleveland art museum during black history month in 1989 and having my little 21-year-old mind blown away, it was their albums on ECM that i found at the local public library.
still, and especially in recent years, it's the cooler, calmer avant-garde jazz that ECM features rather than the scorched earth avant-garde. nothing ever was, anyway, the marilyn crispell trio double CD tribute to annette peacock, is some of crispell's most lyrical playing i've heard, a far cry from her earlier cecil tayloresque dates for leo records. the bley-peacock-motian trio not two, not one is also a stunner, as stark as the light and shade in its black and white cover. the series of evan parker electro-acoustic ensemble discs, now numbering four, are wonderful logical progressions not of parker's high-energy trio work (with guy & lytton or schlippenbach & lovens) but the sustained interwoven textures of the music improvisation company recordings of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
but is it possible for ECM stuff to ever really get out out out, or just plain rock? the answer is yes. i should've taken my clue from a john abercrombie LP i picked up a while back, gateway (1975). i know, an ECM guitarist? what could be closer to windham hill new age pap? think again. with a rhythm section of holland and dejohnette, this trio knows how to rock and abercrombie can make a stab at hendrix and pull it off better than most.
so recently i'm looking into jan garbarek. cold, austere, nordic, i know. so they say. and i'll be damned if the cover of his first ECM recording, afric pepperbird doesn't look about as cold, gray and nordic and far removed from anything afric as you could imagine. well look for this one if you can find it cuz if a live show i've been listening to by the same band (Jan Garbarek tenor and bass saxophones, clarinet, flutes, percussion; Terje Rypdal guitar, bugle; Arild Andersen bass, african thumb piano, xylophone; Jon Christensen percussion) from the same time period (1971) is any indication it rocks. hard. frankly it sounds like bitches brew on jaegermeister and bad LSD. how could a band with a guitarist named terje pull this off? well he does it -- and not so much by going for hendrix like abercrombie but, i dunno, krautrock guitarist michael karoli of can. seriously, rypdal at this time period gets some of the most interesting wall-of-electronoise guitar sounds i've heard from anyone, in any context.
and what about garbarek? well personally i'll pass on that best officium recording with the hilliard ensemble (the penguin guide calls it an exercise in "faith minimalism," which is i guess why ECM records recent arvo part too -- tho don't be fooled, part's early stuff is very solid post-serialist composed music) because on afric pepperbird he's pretty out there, reminding me a bit actually of early gato barbieri tho with less ayler/sanders and more coltrane. the other one of his to keep an eye out for is witchi-tai-to (1973), which is actually attributed to the jan garbarek-bobo stenson quartet. again based on a live recording i have from the same band same period, here the coltrane comparison is even more appropriate because of the lineup and garbarek's sound (which has, by this time and like barbieri's, lost any aylerisms it might have had). stenson is an interesting, folksy lyrical pianist, and the rhythm section (Palle Danielsson, bass; Jon Christensen, drums) is incredibly fluid and powerful.