Founded in 1969 in Munich, Germany, ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is a mainstay in the vitalization of jazz since the 1960s. Unlike many other independent record labels which actually further restricted the audience of jazz, ECM has been endeavoring in keeping jazz within the mainstream of music. ECM is not only an “edition of contemporary music”: by uniting the various albums of different styles with an integrated manner of recording, and with the minimalism artworks with a sense of Nordic frostiness, the label has created a unique “ECM aesthetics.” It is no wondering that ECM recordings could be recognized easily by both eyes and ears.
It is fair to attribute the success of ECM to Manfred Eicher who studied classical music but is also mad about jazz. Besides working as a producer, he takes part in the whole process of recordings, and encourages his musicians to create new sounds. Eicher started with only 16, 000 Marks, but today, the label has published more than two thousand prominent albums. As Eicher said, music is the core of his life, and what he did was only to start every recording process under a special atmosphere in order to stimulate the free and purely artistic creativity of the musicians.
Therefore, it is extremely hard to label ECM records. Besides traditional jazz,the label also produces records of free jazz, avant-garde music, world music, experimental vocal music, and classical music. And more frequently, the elements of different musical styles fuse in ECM records into a real “editions of contemporary music.” An European improvisational music is redefined by Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Paul Bley, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, John Surman, Ralph Towner, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, and Tomasz Stanko; the Art Ensemble of Chicago is quite influential to experimental musicians; Anouar Brahem and Egberto Gismonti create new music with elements of their own cultures; and Sidsel Endresen, Meredith Monk, and Susanne Abbuehl become new types of jazz singers. At the same time, Eicher never gives up classical music. For introducing the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the lable ECM New Series was started in 1984 focusing on classical music since the Baroque period. Their musicians including the Keller Quartet, which is famous for the interpretation of Bach and Beethoven, and the famous conductor Chung Myung-whun, who is joining the ECM Festival in Shanghai.
Like most other forms of music, it is better to listen to ECM’s sound live. To us who live in modern cities, it will be a rare spiritual treat.