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December 9 , 2008

MAJOR RELEASES HERALD ECM’s 40th ANNIVERSARY

Jarrett, Rava, Pärt and Schnittke albums lead the way into next decade.

40 years ago, in the autumn of 1969, Manfred Eicher launched his Edition of Contemporary Music in Munich. From the outset a label committed to documenting creative music, four decades on ECM remains an independent force and has been hailed as “the most important imprint in the world for jazz and new music.”

Four major new releases set the tone for jazz and new music to come in ECM’s anniversary year - two albums of jazz, two albums of contemporary composition. Jazz albums are “Yesterdays” by the trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette and “New York Days” by Enrico Rava and friends. And, on ECM New Series, “In Principio” by Arvo Pärt and Alfred Schnittke’s 9th Symphony.

Keith Jarrett has been a mainstay of ECM since 1971 and the solo album “Facing You”. On the concert recording “Yesterdays” his trio is in particularly sparkling form, in a programme of standards with an emphasis on bebop, including tunes associated with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as ballads from the pen of Jerome Kern.

“New York Days” features a transatlantic quintet headed by Italian trumpeter Rava, and a first ECM appearance for US tenorist Mark Turner, whose distilled, lean sound and, analytical tone is in marked contrast to Enrico’s generous lyricism. Resourceful pianist Stefano Bollani continually finds points of contact between them, and bassist Larry Grenadier (last heard on ECM with Charles Lloyd) and the ever-unpredictable Paul Motian negotiate the music’s subtle pulses. A recording that has the hallmarks of a jazz classic.

Although ECM began releasing albums of contemporary composition in the 1970s, it was Eicher’s encounter with the music of Arvo Pärt that led to the launching of ECM New Series in 1984 with the epochal “Tabula rasa”, a recording that changed the landscape of contemporary composition. On that album’s title piece, fellow composer Alfred Schnittke – like Pärt still largely an unknown quantity in the West, then - played the prepared piano, while on “Fratres” Keith Jarrett joined Gidon Kremer in a historic pairing. ECM’s 40th anniversary being also the 25th anniversary of “Tabula rasa” and the New Series, this is an apt moment for a new Pärt recording as well as the world premiere recording of the last work written by his friend and contemporary Alfred Schnittke.

Arvo Pärt’s new album brings together six compositions written between 1989 and 2005, performed by the Tallin Chamber Orchestra, teh Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under the inspired direction of Tõnu Kaljuste, long a staunch ally and committed advocate for Pärt’s work. “In principio” for mixed choir and large orchestra sets the famous opening of the gospel of St. John, “In principio erat Verbum”. “In the beginning was the Word.” The purely orchestral “La Sindone” addresses the enigma and the journey from Jerusalem to Turin of the Holy Shroud said to bear the imprint of Christ’s face. The harrowingly beautiful “Da pacem Domine”, first heard in a version for four voices on “Lamentate” is presented in a striking new version for choir and strings. The programme is completed by, the hypnotically-insistent “Mein Weg”, and “Für Lennart in memoriam” a very still piece for the late Estonian president Lennart Georg Meri. As with all Pärt’s ECM recordings, the album “In principio” was made with the participation of the composer, and these can be considered definitive versions of these works.

Schnittke’s unfinished Ninth Symphony represents an extraordinary triumph of the human spirit over adversity. A moving, often beautiful and highly expressive work of sweeping power it was written in 1998 by the then -bedridden composer – physically debilitated by long illness, still mentally alert. At his widow’s request, Schnittke’s 53 manuscript pages were reconstructed by Moscow-born composer Alexander Raskatov into a thorough score, performed here by the Dresdner Philharmonie under Dennis Russell Davies. An independent piece composed by Raskatov “Nunc Dimittis, In memoriam Alfred Schnittke” serves as an epilogue and adds the voices of the Hilliard Ensemble and mezzo-soprano Elena Vassilieva, singing texts of Joseph Brodsky and orthodox monk Starets Siluan.