Buying into this is like an article of faith; there's little information on the box to tell you what to expect in what is essentially a compilation excavated from the material of many artists over many years.
If you're an ECM devotee then this probably won't be an issue. You'll already have belief in a label which has been at the meeting point between disparate genres of music since its inception in the '60s. If on the other hand you are not familiar with ECM then...the journey might be even more remarkable.
Listing tracks and artists would be to go against the spirit of this collection, which is to set the listener on a path of which the destination is - at the moment - unknowable. The only thing to do is to loose one of the CDs from its protective cover and to listen.
The experience itself is slightly disorientating, as spoken word rubs up against a fragment of early music, which then leads into a contemporary piece; or is it, are we still in music of hundreds of years ago? Jazz fuses with orchestral out of which grows solo piano; it's disarming and of course asks more questions than it delivers answers. There's a sort of overarching coherence, thanks to the expertise of those involved in curating the project, but from within the maze there's nothing to do but give yourself up to this soundworld.
Produced for the recent ECM cultural celebration in Munich, this is a testament to one man's unshakeable vision, and one which the curious should have no hesitation in connecting with.
on 26 January 2014
Awesome stuff,my only niggles are the lengthy spoken passages in a language I don't understand,which introduce one of the CDs,and the fact that although I already own Selected Signs 1 and 2,they were not included in this package - a box set that starts with "Volume 3" reads a bit odd.
One of the best box sets I've ever bought,though as a fan of ECM I'd trust their output.ECM started with a Mal Waldron jazz LP in 1969 and I have not yet heard a ECM release that wasn't brilliant.I love the label's own quote "The most beautiful sound next to silence"...
Why the 4 stars out of 5 - there is no such thing as a 5 star rating in my critique.
on 28 September 2013
The music we are given here is typical of a trend that may destroy diversity, that may become a norm managing music at some global level. Jazz is a style, or even a genre that implies any musical object can be dealt with along this style. John Steinbeck reported a long time ago his answer to a question someone asked him in the USSR about jazz. He answered that you can take Any musical piece of any tradition and you just produces it in a jazzy way and you have jazz. This is genetically modified music and you import into any music that genetic element called jazz. But then the original music is no longer what it was originally. In our days of genuine fidelity to what the music was or is in its real context, this rewriting of everything in a jazz style is homogenizing.
What's more, as we are going to see, it is one criticism the musicians of this ECM label leveled at what jazz had become in the consumer's society: a commodity, nearly elevator music. The danger in jazz is that it becomes, is becoming, always and systematically a standard often questioned and even rejected by some but to be replaced by another standard. It is obvious with these CDs that improvisation is non-existent since the music is recorded. They may be the recordings of improvised pieces but as soon as they are recorded they are no longer improvised. That's where the DVD would be a better medium because then we would see the improvisation, not live but dead alive if I dare say so. On a CD it is necessarily dead by dissection.
I say it is a danger in that procedure, but in these CDs many pieces are really original in tone or in treatment of the musical objects. But yet the trio or the quartet is a form that comes back over and over again. Such small "bands" were invented (in fact borrowed even if not consciously) by jazz because of the small places where they could perform, like churches, and because that Jazz was born in the poorest strata of the poorest class of the American society: the Blacks just after slavery and in the midst of segregation. It was practically clandestine at the time, if not outlawed by authorities and rejected by the white majority as degenerate, like the Black monkeys who were playing it. After a while, when listening to the CDs I seem to regret the absence of variations in these three or four musicians and the rather regular processing we have: the cult of the solo part in the middle of a piece. Rare are the real duets in these records, and when a real duet appears, it is a marvelous moment. Such moments could and should be multiplied.
The tendency of a chaotic architecture in many pieces is not a real challenge to the rather dominant formal elements. Chaos is interesting in many ways but it has to get to some kind of pattern to be meaningful, and that is not always true. Then we have the trumpet for the sake of the trumpet, or the double bass for the sake of the double bass. As Picasso would say, when you only use one color to paint with no real shape or form, then you just paint blue. Many pieces are just that. They play trumpet, or saxophone, or double bass, or drums, with rhythmic patterns that are basically always similar. To have several rhythmic patterns superimposed one onto the other can only lead for us to some beauty if the patterns build together a higher meta-pattern. We are too often missing that meta-level when we do not have the traditional patterns.
I am all for the use of Bach's or Mozart's or Shostakovich's music in jazz. But it has to be clearly said it is variations on Bach's music and not Bach's music. Many musicians have done that over the centuries, used the music of someone else, but they never pretended it was that music of someone else. Actually we cannot even know if it is the real score of the original music performed in a new jazzy way or if it is a set of variations on the original score.
I have heard some Vivaldi violin piece played in the typical gypsy or fiddler on the roof style. It was impressive but it was not Vivaldi any more because Vivaldi never thought of his music being played that way. Ivry Gitlis performed that particular "improvisation" in La Chaise-Dieu as an encore at the end of a Vivaldi concert in which he had been the violin soloist. Ivry Gitlis can afford that originality in an encore but that would be very questionable if a whole Vivaldi concert were performed that way. Anyway it would not be Vivaldi any more but (and I DO NOT say only) variations on some scores by Vivaldi.
In other words and to conclude this general remark, I find it hard at times, and even quite a few times, to capture e meaning in the music we are given and when the words or the music of someone else are used, there is always an iconoclastic approach that bothers me: Blake is not used to the full meaning of his poetry. Henry Vaughan is reduced to little. The words of Heiner Müller or Bertolt Brecht are interesting but they are given as such, with little change, and that is respectful of the words and their authors. This does not concern the style in which they are read or performed, which is the responsibility of the director who is free to have the words produced the way he wants, but if he cuts them then it is no longer the original author. Zeffirelli has cut short the opening poem of Romeo and Juliet in his film adaptation (1968) but he did not cut one word out of the "pilgrim's sonnet" tough it has two lines too many.
More and more we see "adaptations" of plays or music works without any mention of the fact it is an adaptation, as Romeo and Juliet with only two actors could be attributed to Shakespeare. Somewhere I tend to believe this is cheating on the real work. Somewhere there is a lack of authenticity. If one wants to produce a Hallelujah it is not mandatory to use Handel's music. Too often we are given variations on a plagiarized classic musical work. It is fine with me but what does it bring as for a new meaning? They may say the meaning is in the pleasure. Is there any pleasure when you recognize the plagiarized work and necessarily compare the variations with the original? Pleasure can only come - for me at least - from a really and authentically original work.
I have had the privilege of watching in 2003 a performance of Berlioz's Requiem with the supplementary brass performers making believe they were playing (that was in 2003 during a harsh social movement of intermittent performing artists in France) but President Giscard d'Estaing who was present for that performance was clear when he said in the cocktail after the concert that at last he had watched a performance of this Requiem in which the brass instruments did not crush the whole work. You cannot dupe someone who has a culture.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU