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May 21 , 2008

Schloss Elmau Festival Reminder

A reminder that an ECM festival, in the mountains of Elmau, Germany, begins on May 22.

From the festival programme:

Signs Among Us: Music from ECM

Music on ECM adds up to nearly forty years of recording and more than a thousand albums. With such a history no ‘ECM festival’ can be definitive, but it is possible to indicate emblematically some directions that have been important in the work’s evolution, some ‘signs among us’. The signposts point north, south, east and west as these six concerts touch on or draw influence from the worlds of jazz, chamber music, free improvisation, folk, the cinema, literature and more. The musicians themselves come - on this occasion - from Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Greece, England, and Germany. ECM is, as producer Manfred Eicher has often said, a borderless enterprise.

Yet the local backdrop against which the festival unfolds could also be read as a sign: if mountains could sing, Terje Rypdal suggested long ago, they’d soar like improvisers. Conversely dozens of mountainscapes have decorated the ‘envelope of the given’ that is the ECM album sleeve, as cover art conveys a sense of space paralleling the often panoramic production. The idea of taking the music from smoke-filled jazz clubs towards the clear mountain air no longer seems contradictory or controversial. The music itself often yearns for the wide open spaces; Eicher has given it room to move.

‘Rural’ and ‘city’ scenes are counterpointed in Stefano Battaglia’s multi-levelled musical biography of Pier Paolo Pasolini, which explores the contradictory nature of that artist’s creativity. In music that poetically interprets the filmmaker’s life Battaglia alludes to the complexity of his religious, political and cultural convictions, “each of his arts influencing the other, intermeshing and blending together to communicate his message.”

Wolfert Brederode, another pianist who has come to ECM in the 21st century has cited Mal Waldron, the very first pianist to have recorded for the label back in 1969, as an influence in showing how much can be set in motion with judiciously selected notes. Critics have also drawn comparisons between Brederode’s fragile, gently flowing music and the improvisations of the Jimmy Giuffre 3, a reference underlined by the movement of Claudio Puntin’s clarinets. It’s a good moment to remember Giuffre, who died last month: his forward-thinking chamber jazz of the 1950s and early 1960s certainly anticipated some of the signs still followed at ECM.

Bobo Stenson first recorded as leader of his own trio for the label in 1971, already evidencing a strong style that could reconcile the powerhouse chording of McCoy Tyner with the filigree lyricism of Bill Evans. Through his close friendship with Don Cherry he was initiated into the deeper mysteries of Ornette Coleman’s music, too. The Ornette influence is still alive in what has become one of the most comprehensive of all piano trios, utilising the European classical tradition from Purcell to Berg and beyond, plus world folk resources, as well as jazz, as bases for improvising.

Norma Winstone, by general critical consent the UK’s finest jazz singer, has credited ECM with helping her to focus her resources as a singer in recordings with the trio Azimuth in the late 1970s. Winstone’s voice was deployed ‘instrumentally’ then, in music at the junction of jazz improvisation and minimal music’s pattern-pulses. Her new trio is a songs band of chamber music sensitivity with piano and reeds underlining the meaning and moods of the texts.

With their “Chants, Hymns and Dances” recording Anja Lechner and Vasillis Tsabropoulos achieved critical and popular success, topping various classical charts but also making inroads into so-called world music. The compositions of Gurdjieff, based on traditional and ritual musics of Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, formed part of a duo repertoire augmented by Tsabropoulos’s adaptations and reformulations of Greek Byzantine hymns. The current project is a logical continuation. Adding drummer U.T. Gandhi, Lechner and Tsabropoulos open up the music in modal improvisation.

Norway’s Ketil Bjørnstad has uniquely established two audiences, one that reads his books and another that follows his musical development. “The Light” is likely to bring them together. Here Bjørnstad’s love poetry and verse by John Donne is set for the voice of Randi Stene, accompanied by the viola of Lars Anders Tomter and the composer’s piano.


In 2007 ECM won prizes as both Classical Label of the Year and Jazz Label of the Year, a first in phonographic history. Yet a study of the company’s recordings would soon show that, if there is a wall between the worlds of composition and improvisation, it is one that the musicians frequently scale.

ECM keeps its distance from fashionable debates about European and American Jazz and the alleged superiority of one over the other. But it remains a Munich-based company looking on jazz from a perspective that is unavoidably European, and a European perspective can hardly fail to take account of the classical tradition. Each of the six projects presented in the present ‘jazz’ festival draws inspiration from it, at different levels, as do the individual players – several of whom have parallel careers in classical music. Lechner and Tsabropoulos, for instance, are classical musicians firstly. Battaglia and Bjørnstad came to improvisation via classical music. Critics tend to speak of this as a new development, which is only partly true. Bobo Stenson may choose to play music of Charles Ives or Duke Ellington in his jazz trio, raising eyebrows in the press, but Ives himself loved ragtime and Ellington talked – in the 1920s already – of symphonic jazz. The traditions were intertwined at the dawn of jazz. The separation of the genres over the last 100 years is an artificial segregation largely enforced by marketing divisions of the music industry. It does not correspond to the way creative musicians really think. Since 1969 ECM has provided a haven for unblinkered players - and a platform on which all manner of trans-cultural dialogue can take place. Some of it will find expression in these concerts…

Full programme:

Thursday May 22

21:00 Stefano Battaglia, Re: Pasolini

Stefano Battaglia: piano, Aya Shimura: cello, Michael Gassmann: trumpet, Mirco Mariottini: clarinets, Salvatore Maiore: double-bass, Roberto Dani: drums

Friday May 23

17:00 Wolfert Brederode Quartet

Wolfert Brederode: piano, Claudio Puntin: clarinets, Gulli Gudmundsson: double-bass, Samuel Rohrer: drums

21:00 Bobo Stenson Trio

Bobo Stenson: piano, Anders Jormin: double-bass, Jon Fält: drums

Saturday May 24

17:00 Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner w/ U.T. Gandhi

Vassilis Tsabropoulos: piano, Anja Lechner: cello, U.T. Gandhi: drums

21:00 Norma Winstone Trio

Norma Winstone: voice, Klaus Gesing: saxophone/clarinet, Glauco Venier: piano

Sunday May 25

11:00 Ketil Bjørnstad w/ Randi Stene, Lars Anders Tomter
Ketil Bjørnstad: piano, Randi Stene: mezzo-soprano, Lars Anders Tomter: viola