Guest post by Adrian Ainsworth

We’re coming up to the first anniversary of a slightly unusual and unexpected musical event – or to be more accurate, ‘music business event’. On 17 November 2017, the record label ECM made virtually all of its catalogue available on streaming services for the first time.

For anyone unfamiliar, ECM is a Munich record label, founded almost 50 years ago – and still run – by producer extraordinaire Manfred Eicher. Initially the focus was on modern jazz music, but in the mid-eighties Eicher established the parallel ‘ECM New Series’ imprint to cover classical music.

It may be because the boss is a producer that ECM Is famed for exceptional recording quality and detail. It’s tempting to think that the New Series seemed at once boldly contemporary (featuring composers linked to minimalism, like Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich) and wilfully archaeological (the exquisite early choral recordings of Trio Mediaeval or the Hilliard Ensemble), because these ‘extremes’ of classical music particularly benefited from such finely-wrought clarity.

This wide variety means that while there isn’t an ‘ECM sound’ as such, there’s definitely an ECM aesthetic. As well as making the records sound gorgeous, the label’s sleeve design – even into the CD era – has a largely abstract austerity that totally fits its musical output: enigmatic yet welcoming, arty, classy, attractive, open to wide interpretation.

This strong identity is arguably what kept ECM away from streaming platforms for as long as possible: the physical object, played on the best equipment you can muster, is part of their ideal. However, the fact that Eicher and co have now given in means you can at least explore a remarkable range of beautifully documented music at great leisure (and little or no cost) – hopefully on a ‘try before you buy’ basis, as a shelfful or so of ECM releases is a truly joyful sight.

Perhaps treating all of its artists with the same sonic respect, whatever the genre, is the engine behind another distinctive feature of ECM’s output: inspired collaborations. Eicher seems to delight in bringing musicians on the label from both jazz and classical camps together, resulting in highly rewarding joint releases, without compromising the spirit of their individual recordings.

This is a key theme in my very personal ECM playlist. There’s a run of three tracks where Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek first plays with a group of Pakistani musicians, followed by a selection from his celebrated partnership with the Hilliard Ensemble – then we hear the Hilliards on their own performing a striking contemporary piece in contrast to their original ‘early music’ idiom.

Latterly, the Trio Mediaeval have recorded an album with trumpeter Arve Henriksen – a record that, while very different, seems to rejoice in a similar spirit, and a choice from this starts the whole playlist off. Bringing proceedings to a close is John Surman – another versatile saxophonist who can career from furious hard bop to drones/electronica and all points in between. However, his two albums with a string quartet are real jewels in ECM’s crown, as I hope ‘At Dusk’ proves.

Along the way, I’ve tried to bring in some of ECM’s most arresting characters. There’s Stephan Micus, who seems to learn and compose on a different array of instruments from all over the globe on each release, yet here foregrounds his own voice. Or Nik Bartsch, a Swiss pianist who describes his work as ‘ritual groove music’ (about four minutes into the playlist track, you’ll hear why). He records mainly with two bands, Ronin – who feature here – and Mobile, depending on the configuration of musicians the material needs. The distinctive, unhurried and wonderfully delicate piano of Marilyn Crispell, followed by the atmospheric vocalising from Susanne Abbuehl.

And much more… I could have carried on and on but thought I had better stop at 20 tracks (and 2 hours)! As you will find if you explore ECM further for yourself, I could have gone off at so many tangents: used Ralph Towner as a springboard to fellow guitarists John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny or Terje Ryphal; or followed Alexei Lubimov into the label’s roster of esteemed classical pianists (including Sir Andras Schiff). Keith Jarrett’s recordings alone must provide more than 100 hours of listening (some 90 recordings, including a few multi-disc sets).

I hope you enjoy this rather focused selection, then, and feel inspired to find ‘your ECM’ among the label’s near-limitless riches.

Adrian’s ECM playlist

 


Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at

Twitter: @adrian_specs

Adrian is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist

 

This playlist contains a selection of recordings from up-and-coming colleagues of mine, really well known artists in the Classical world as well as some original compositions by some of the artists.  This playlist includes Fabiana and Paula Chavez, the Piano duo twin sisters from Argentina (currently studying at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire in London), who have overcome a major physical disability of blindness to record their album and I feature a couple of tracks from that. One of the highlights is British pianist Stephen Hough’s ‘Broken Branches’ Piano Sonata: I attended the world premiere performance of this work in 2011 at London’s Wigmore Hall.  Hope you enjoy it!


Daniel Roberts is a graduate of Leeds College of Music, where he studied with Helen Reid and Natalia Strelchenko. A former student of the later Peter Feuchtwanger, Daniel has performed around the UK, Europe, South America, and USA. He lives in Brazil.

danielrobertsmusic.com

Double-bassist and director of Classical Evolution, Heather Bird shares her mixtape of music which reminds her of childhood musical encounters, teenage hearthrobs, student music making, living and working in Spain and performing at the Proms for the first time…….

Brandenburgs – apparently when I was a baby my dad would put the headphones from his big wooden stereo on me and play this. I’d sit there for hours and yell the place down if they took the headphones off before the end of a phrase. Strange kid….My grandma bought me a penny whistle when I was 18 months and I worked out bits of 3 and 5 on it.

Dvorak- my mum’s favourite piece and she adored Du Pré. She died when I was 12 and was so supportive of my flute playing. She wanted me to take up the cello as well as the flute. Bass is an improvement on that I suppose! Still can’t listen to this without crying.

Mahler 2. Mum took me to see the Hallé playing this when I was 4. The bit where the flutes go mad in the last movement is the reason I took up the flute.

Save All Your Kisses For Me. I had the best grandma in the world. She was a school cook in Liverpool. I would phone her every day from when I was 6 and we would sing this down the phone to each other.

So What – first heard this when I was about 10 and completely fell in love. Would improvise over the kind of blue album for hours on my flute. Have lost count of how many copies of this album I’ve bought.

Lloyd Cole. My first love. Several ex-boyfriends bear a striking resemblance….

Sueños de autostop!! I lived near Cádiz for three years and played in a band with some Argentinian guys. They introduced me to this band Me Daras Mil Hijos which translates as “I’ll give you 1000 sons. Optimistic. This reminds me of me, my kid and my band driving down the Costa de la Luz to gigs in Sevilla and Granada singing along to this. Very happy time of my life and amazing musically to work with these incredible musicians.

Nielsen 5. I got put in Symphony Orchestra at the RNCM in my first week. We did Nielsen 5 and toured it to Denmark and Sweden. It was my first real taste of top class playing. I was thinking about leaving the RNCM for various reasons and this made me stay. I also accidentally offered the queen of Denmark a free pint of carlsberg accidentally in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.

Stone Roses. This album was the theme tune to my late teens.
Took my son to see them a couple of years ago and he said that I was mum dancing. How time flies…..
Brahms. Played my first prom back after a break to be a parent with the OAE under Marin Alsop. It was stunning and working with her was an immense privilege. It was great to get back to that level after the parent break as you always wonder in the back of your mind if you will get to that point again. It was a wonderful gig and the OAE are definitely my favourite orchestra to work with. I felt very lucky that night.
 

 

To submit your Mixtape, click here

This seemed such a great idea, and it was, indeed, great fun! It was also really hard. I don’t know about others, but my instinct was to start sifting through CDs to pick out my favourite tracks, but really, it would never be possible to do that in an hour of music (and yes, apologies…mine is an hour and nine minutes). So, the intention of my mixtape is to say something about me and the music I play, enjoy and listen to.

I guess that my first love has, and probably always will be, choral music. I was lucky enough to go to a secondary school which was very musical. We had a SATB school choir, often with over 100 members (though I think having a pass to be first in the dinner queue was perhaps more of a draw for some!). My first selection is John Joubert’s O Lorde, the Maker of Al Thing which was one of the first pieces we sang in that choir. Some might say it’s a bit of a baptism of fire, but once sung, I was hooked. This particular recording with the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, directed by Paul Spicer, is special to me as I was present at the pre-recording performance a couple of years ago.

John Rutter’s music has been much maligned over the years, often unfairly. Yes, we might argue it’s a formulaic, but my goodness, it works and it’s popular. I can’t help but feel that an awful lot of the disdain for his music comes purely from jealousy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it all, and I wouldn’t want to listen to it all the time, but it’s played a big part in my life. His setting of All Things Bright and Beautiful was one of my early introductions to it.

I’ve included Douglas Guest’s For the Fallen as an example of what I might call exquisite choral writing. To me, this short anthem captures everything about what can be achieved with human voices in harmony.

I’m afraid to say, I’ve never had much time for music from the classical period, and I’m only just coming around to baroque, but I have always found enjoyment in early music, whether that be plainsong, or works such as Josquin’s Missa pange lingua.

I couldn’t possibly create this list without including something by Herbert Howells. Howells’ music is perhaps the music which speaks to me most closely and spiritually. I don’t think this is something we can explain, but I’m sure we’ve all come across pieces and composers like that. There is something about the harmony and rhythm of Howells’ writing which tugs at me deep inside. Even in this short extract, the Nunc Dimittis from his Collegium Regale setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, there is so much to explore and enjoy.

Gavin Bryars’ work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet was perhaps my first introduction to what then, we’d have called ‘contemporary music’. There is something quite magical in this work which makes for an almost hypnotic listening experience.

If you thought I was all about so-called ‘classical music’, you’d be wrong. I have always been interested in music for television, and in particular, ‘library music’. Keith Mansfield’s Superstar on the KPM LP Lifeforce is a fabulous example – pure 1970s. Over the years, I have collected hundreds of library LPs and CDs, all sadly being disposed of around the country as broadcasters go digital.

Then there’s pop music too…although my pop music knowledge probably ceases around 1989. Spandau Ballet’s True has always had a hold on my ears, and my only explanation is that it came out at about the exact time I was born. Spooky?!

I’ve always enjoyed musicals (apparently, we’re to call it ‘musical theatre’ now), but no surprise that I’m a fan of the musicals which no one really knows and didn’t catch on. So, I doubt anyone’s heard of The Goodbye Girl!

Of course, the precursor to musicals was operetta, and I couldn’t resist but to include some G&S. No surprises that it’s from Princess Ida which although my favourite, is not one of the popular ones! (Why not?! It’s very topical…)

Then there’s folk music too: here’s an Irish folk-song The Butcher Boy, but there are so many others I could have included. It’s perhaps the folk idiom which influences my choice of orchestral music. Here I’ve included an extract from Stanford’s Symphony No. 6 and Armstrong Gibbs’ Symphony No. 1. These, in my view are two totally underrated composers, and I guess, that’s always been part of me too…I like the things no one else has discovered!

Finally, just like Howells, I couldn’t leave this without including some Vaughan Williams, and it’s not one of the popular pieces, but instead, the first movement from his Symphony No. 6.


David Barton is a piano, flute and voice teacher, composer, mentor and writer based in Lichfield

www.davidbartonmusic.co.uk