The longest poem: 40 years of ECM

From time to time, we bring you back to extempore journal with an issue or a feature. Most of the content we published in extempore between November 2008 and 2010 is timeless… you’ll be able to enjoy it for years to come. We’re not doing reprints and we have limited stock,  so if you don’t have your own copy, might be worth a thought…

Issue 3 excerpt:  Essay

John Shand – The longest poem: forty years of ECM

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Hear ‘Birdsong’, a track we love (from YouTube) from an ECM CD.

Excerpt from John Shand’s piece in Issue 3

Eicher then had one of his light-bulb moments for a spectacularly successful collaboration between Charlie Haden, Garbarek and Gismonti. Two brilliant releases ensued in 1979, Magico and Folk Song, both floating into a cross-cultural zone that nonetheless resulted in music of distilled purity. Eicher says that putting together musicians who have never played together is always a risk. ‘But nothing in contemporary music should go without risk,’ he adds. ‘You might say one of the driving forces in art to me is to take risks. This risk was to bring people together from Los Angeles, Rio De Janeiro and Oslo and then be, so to speak, on an island where nothing else counts, and we come together to make music. If it works, it works wonderfully, as it did with Magico and Folk Songs. There are a few occasions where it didn’t work so well. But most of the time I would say the greater the risk, the more satisfying the result.’

Eicher also enjoys trying to massage the players into the right mood. ‘You don’t talk about musical notes,’ he says. ‘You talk about something else that comes from the surroundings, the light or the circumstances; that comes from our memories, our lives. That is what makes records live, and also makes them stay alive after 30 years.’

A thread running through much ECM music is the very 20th-centruy artistic phenomenon of evocations of starkness and loneliness; the predicament of humanity in a hostile world, paralleled in the paintings of de Chirico and the plays of Beckett. While Eicher acknowledges that an array of influences plays upon his sound world, he is adamant that there is never an intention to impose these influences on the music: they emerge organically.

About the author

John Shand began writing about jazz for Jazz magazine in 1981. For 17 years he has been The Sydney Morning Herald’s jazz critic. He contributed to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, edited and co-wrote the 24 Hours Essential Guide to Jazz, edited Jazz’n’Blues magazine, and has been a regular jazz contributor to 24 Hours, Limelight, Australian Hi-Fi and SAM magazines. His writing on jazz has also appeared in Vogue Australia, The (Sydney) Magazine, Rhythms, Jazzchord, Beomag and programs for the Sydney Festival. Many Australian jazz CDs bear his liner notes. In 2008 he published Jazz: The Australian Accent (UNSW Press). John is also a playwright and librettist, who has previously published The Phantom of the Soap Opera (a play for teenagers) and Don’t Shoot the Best Boy! – The Film Crew At Work.

Visionary producer Manfred Eicher gives few interviews, but his record label’s [ECM—Editions of Contemporary Music] 40th birthday was enough reason to find time for a chat with John Shand. The longest poem: forty years of ECM is a personal appreciation of ECM interwoven with material from interviews conducted with ECM artists over three decades.


This Video from YouTube transported us and we wanted to share it!  DEFINITELY NOT the high quality sound you’d expect from from an ECM CD but still beautiful.  ‘Birdsong’  was recorded live at the Village Vanguard inNew York. Chris Potter on tenor sax, Jason Moran on piano, Paul Motian on drums – a song from the ECM CD Lost in a Dream.

Get your copy of Issue 3 now > and support independent publishing!