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CULTURE: Might guide to ECM is worth the weight; JAZZ What is it that makes ECM music unique? Peter Bacon offers an answer in this week's Jazz Diary.

Byline: Peter Bacon

The Midland jazz scene is relatively quiet and you might have some time off work.

May I therefore share with you how I intend to spend this week because I think you could do a lot worse than emulate it.

I am going to pile up a load of CDs all from the same record label and immerse myself in a large vibrantly red-covered book filled with fascinating words and pictures covering just what has gone into making that record label the most influential on the lives of so many music fans over the last 30 years.

The label is ECM and the book is Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM, edited by Steve Lake and Paul Griffiths - Granta cased hardback, pounds 45.

It's huge - more than 400 pages, larger than A4 and weighing a couple of kgs - and it is perfectly designed for dipping into, mixing brief and intimate essays by many ECM musicians in among longer pieces covering over-arching themes.

Some have erudite titles - On Arvo Part: Lamentate in the context of his oeuvre, for example; others are wonderfully neo-hippy - Editions of Contemporary Me springs to mind.

The latter is by Geoff Dyer, whose work of fact-enlightened fiction But Beautiful is my favourite book about jazz, and I found it an ideal entry point into Horizons Touched, as it echoed so strongly my own introduction to the label.

His was thanks to a Cheltenham hi-fi nut called Rob; mine was courtesy of a Zen Buddhist computer buff called Colin who lived in a remote cottage in the highlands of Zululand.

It was Colin who first played me Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert and I listen to it again 30 years later as I write this.

Dyer talks of playing an ECM disc as soon as he had set up his record player in a house he had just moved into.

It is music you live with, that shapes your life and turns a quiet day of domesticity into something to be longed for, music in which to transcend the drudge of every day life, while being anything but escapist.

Incorporating great recordings of the classical repertoire, as well as new music from all over the world and fitting into genres as wide as jazz, world music, minimalism, experimental sounds, film soundtracks, and on and on, ECM can be epitomised by the sounds of Jarrett or Jan Garbarek or Arvo Part or Steve Reich, but it can never easily be contained.

ECM compact discs, like the LPs that came before them, are treasured artefacts with their minimalist, classy and stylised cover art - so often they are monochrome, shadowed and blurred photographs, as intriguing and difficult to fully grasp as the music within - but form never overwhelms content. It's always the music that matters.

In Horizons Touched you will find extensive interviews with ECM founder and the producer of most of its recordings, Manfred Eicher, as well as pieces written by Keith Jarrett and Arvo Part, and more than 100 others -musicians, engineers, designers and composers who have worked with the label.

What is it that identifies ECM music in the end? Perhaps the pianist Tord Gustavsen has it pinned down when he writes... "the language of music criticism and appreciation really should break free from the notion of absolute newness, when we know deep inside that it's illusory. We should reach for freshness not abstract newness, honesty not hype or hipness, and basically for what touches us rather than what we think we ought to play".

Have a fresh and honest week.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 9, 2007
Words:595
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