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ECM puts together a 50th anniversary concert@JALC / STEREOGUM

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People often talk about particular jazz labels having an aesthetic, a through-line that encompasses most if not all of their releases. Very few labels have been as convincingly tagged this way, in the public mind, as ECM. For five decades, they have been seen as the home for a particular sort of stately, reserved, starkly beautiful jazz that politely requests your focused attention - their CDs begin with five seconds of silence, a sort of cooling-off moment between whatever you were listening to before and whatever's about to come - and rewards it.

Of course, ECM doesn't have a single sound, even if the production favored by label head Manfred Eicher and his longtime engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug (who died 11/5 at 75) always had certain qualities in common, in particular a precise combination of clarity and room sound and very carefully deployed reverb. But within those parameters, the variety of music released on the label is stunning, so when ECM put together a 50th anniversary concert at Jazz At Lincoln Center at the beginning of this month, the question of who would perform was wide open.

The approach they settled on was brilliant. There were close to a dozen acts, each getting 10-15 minutes onstage. It began with Brazilian pianist Egberto Gismonti, performing solo in an extremely lyrical and romantic manner. That was followed by the trio of saxophonist Joe Lovano, pianist Marilyn Crispell, and drummer Carmen Castaldi, playing two pieces from their album Trio Tapestry, released earlier this year.

Throughout the night, solo performers like bassist Larry Grenadier, and pianists Nik Bärtsch and Craig Taborn, alternated with duos and trios. Easily the most thrilling portion of the concert, for me, was two back-to-back sets. The first was a duo performance by pianist Vijay Iyer, who started out on electric piano, and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. The two improvised together for about 10 minutes in a way that was simultaneously soft and gentle, but throbbing with energy. Then Iyer left the stage, but Smith remained. He was joined by guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Andrew Cyrille, and they performed a piece from Lebroba, the album they made together last year. It was louder and more aggressive than what Smith and Iyer had done, but his stunningly beautiful trumpet playing was the common factor, each note like an ice-cold dagger fired straight through every audience member's heart.
PHOTO CREDIT: Delphine Diallo       READ THE FULL STEREOGUM ARTICLE