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August 5 , 2010

Press raves for ECM ‘mavericks’

“It might be 40 years old now,” wrote John Fordham in The Guardian recently, “but Germany’s ECM keeps turning up the kind of mavericks the mainstream industry most shrugs perplexedly at.” Indeed, finding and recording and music from the idiomatic margins has always been one of the label’s priorities. The writer was speaking of American singer-songwriter-pianist Judith Berkson, whose ECM debut “Oylam” has netted international praise. New York Times critic Ben Ratliff wrote: “Judith Berkson is an art-song vocalist in her early 30s who’s got some jazz training; she likes the Fender Rhodes at least as much as the piano, and she’s also a cantor. That’s a lot, and all of it fits comfortably into ‘Oylam,’ her first album for ECM: standards and Schubert and liturgical music, swing and chilly silences, a beautiful Satie-like piece in two different versions, to open and close the record. I can’t get enough of it.” In the Wall Street Journal, Martin Johnson noted that “More remarkable than the range of genres is Ms. Berkson’s mastery of them and her ability to weave them into a seamless program. … Oylam reveals the connections between seemingly divergent paths. The unifier is her pensive, spare performance style.” In Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung Karl Lippegaus suggested that Oylam was perhaps the most radical album by a female singer since Nico’s 1970 “Desertshore”. In the French-Swiss Vibrations magazine, Francisco Cruz wrote: “Judith Berkson est la musicienne dont tout le monde parle dans le cercle de la musique expérimentale de New York. Compositrice inspirée et interprète extrêmente talentueuse”.

With three highly creative ECM trio albums behind her as well as the radiant solo album “Vignettes”, Marilyn Crispell is hardly a newcomer at the label. New, however, is her free improvising duo with clarinettist David Rothenberg on “One Dark Night I Left My Silent House”, its title borrowed from Peter Handke. “As Handke’s protagonist moves outside of time, so improvisation releases us from the beaten and cyclical paths in music. And as Handke describes how the unexpected can lead us into new situations, improvised music leaves room for musicians’ explorations of the unexpected. Crispell and Rothenberg open up music, and with melodic flair they create an enriching experience for more than just ardent improv fans “ – thus Jon Mikkel Broch Ålvik in Norway’s Morgenbladet newspaper. In the BBC Music Magazine, Barry Withernden observes that Crispell’s piano is “precise yet passionate as ever. If it seems less ferocious than her early work, it is no less mesmerizing. Rothenberg, a philosopher-naturalist, makes music with birds and whales, and paces Crispell in whatever realms they chance upon. His work on both horns is fluent, full-toned imbued with a strong structure. If these pieces were composed they’d be categorised as chamber music of a high order.” In Switzerland’s Weltwoche, Peter Rüedi talks about intensity in Crispell’s work and the different channels through which it flows. Her lyrical side, he says, prevails in the duo yet the whole person is present, her refusal to compromise is as evident as ever to those with ears to hear, and in Rothenberg “she has found a congenial partner, a fabulous sound-sculptor of subtle wit.”

ECM first helped to spread the word about the group Food back in the 1990s when marketing and distributing the Rune Grammofon label. The group’s first ECM album, “Quiet Inlet” finds Food reduced to its Norwegian-English core of Thomas Strønen (drums, electronics) and Iain Ballamy (saxophones) and joined by guests Nils Peter Molvaer (trumpet) and Christian Fennesz (guitar, electronics). “A stylistic match made in heaven,” raved Mike Flynn in Jazzwise. “This delectable duo has finally arrived at the most fitting of labels. The pristine depth of Eicher’s production brings out the most exquisite qualities in Ballamy’s already exquiste sound around which Strønen’s dancing layers of percussion bubble and bite.” “The resuilts are both intriguing and compelling,” wrote Michel Tucker in Jazz Journal, “with Ballamy floating spacious, beautifully modulated lines out over atmospheric, drifting clouds of sound and Strønen setting many a shape shifting mood.” For Collin Buttimer at BBC Online, “‘Quiet Inlet’ reveals a technologised rhythmic approach distantly related to jungle and two-step as well as connections with 1970s Miles Davis recordings. Food’s music is a magical hybrid of technology and improvisation, Europe and America, ambience and dance.”