ECM records

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ECM records
Logo of the label
Logo of the label
Parent company Universal Music (cooperation only)
Active years since 1969
founder Manfred Eicher , Manfred Scheffner and Karl Egger
Seat Graefelfing , near Munich (D)
Genre (s) New music , classical , jazz

ECM Records (for Edition of Contemporary Music ) is an independent record label founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher , Manfred Scheffner and Karl Egger . It is regarded as a leader in sub-areas of contemporary jazz and contemporary classical music and has released more than 1,600 albums (by March 2020). ECM has always remained independent, but distribution is carried out country-specifically via sales partners - for example in Germany, France, Japan, Canada and the USA by the major Universal Music Group.

The initiator and financier was Karl Egger, who took over the costs of founding the company and the production costs of the first publication and is still managing director of the company with Eicher. For a long time he also made the business premises in Munich-Pasing on Gleichmannstrasse available. Eicher has been a producer of ECM since it was founded. Today the label is based in Graefelfing .


Pioneering years

The label's first release was the Manfred Scheffner-produced album Free at Last by pianist Mal Waldron ; ECM launched it in January 1970 in a first edition of 500 pieces. Thanks to the enthusiasm for Waldron in Japan, further productions could follow by the end of the year: It was the album Just Music by a collective around Alfred Harth , a licensed trio album Paul Bley with Gary Peacock and Afternoon of a Georgia Faun by the ensemble of Marion Brown , in which u. a. Anthony Braxton and Chick Corea as well as Bennie Maupin , Jeanne Lee and Andrew Cyrille played.

Eicher always saw himself as a pioneer of new musical trends. As early as 1978, ECM published Music for 18 Musicians (1974-1976) by Steve Reich , a key work of notated music of the 20th century and minimalism . Today the work is an integral part of the performance practice of contemporary music.

ECM was also commercially successful with these productions. Eicher then produced electroacoustic music for the Music Improvisation Company around Derek Bailey , Hugh Davies , Evan Parker and Jamie Muir , a record by the Wolfgang Dauner Trio ( output ) and Robin Kenyatta's Girl from Martinique . He went to Oslo to record with Jan Garbarek , where he met the sound engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug . He let the double bass players Barre Phillips and Dave Holland meet in the studio and recorded with Bobo Stenson and Terje Rypdal's band as well as with the Chick Corea Trio (with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul ). In 1971, ECM bought the rights to a radio recording of a concert in Paris, at which the quartet formed from this trio with Anthony Braxton presented their music oriented towards creative music (ECM's first double album).

The label initially focused on European free form and avant-garde jazz . From 1972 onwards, there was an increasing number of productions by American jazz musicians who, due to the rock music trend, no longer felt properly looked after by the big record companies.

Success with Keith Jarrett

In November 1971 Eicher went into the studio with Keith Jarrett for the first time to record the solo album Facing You . This was followed by the large orchestral production In the Light and a first solo tour by ECM by Keith Jarrett. In 1974, ECM released the triple album Solo Concerts Bremen / Lausanne with two of Jarrett's first freely improvised solo concerts to emerge on this tour. A year later the label released The Köln Concert by the same artist , probably the most successful and best-selling piano solo recording ever.

ECM New Series

Since 1984, ECM has been publishing classical music under the title ECM New Series . ECM is dedicated to both new recordings of early music (for example by Thomas Tallis ) and the first recordings by contemporary composers (for example by Arvo Pärt , whose Tabula Rasa started this sub-label, or by György Kurtág ).

Current developments

In 2011, ECM contractually extended its long-term close cooperation with the Universal Music distributor .

For many years, ECM refused to stream music and did not make its catalog available to the relevant online providers. In November 2017 the label changed this course.

In 2019, ECM celebrates its 50th anniversary with a retrospective and milestones from the archive, among other things.


Some productions combine jazz and classical music, especially the groundbreaking album Officium from 1994, which Jan Garbarek recorded together with the Hilliard Ensemble . Garbarek created saxophone solos to accompany the singing of the ensemble from the 13th to 16th centuries. Other productions combine non-European musical cultures with the jazz idiom in the sense of ethno-jazz , for example numerous albums by the Tunisian composer and oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem . Eicher himself speaks of music that "leaves room for sounds in its melodic freedom". The New Grove Dictrionary of Jazz characterizes the label's style as a "combination of free chromatic improvisations with simple bass and drum stinatos ."

A trademark of ECM is the outstanding sound standard of its recordings, for which Jan Erik Kongshaug and Martin Wieland were responsible as sound engineers in most productions in the first few years . Eicher was able to realize his own reductionist sound ideas with the sound engineers and musicians.

Wolfram Knauer notes a peculiarity of all ECM productions: "They begin with three seconds of silence, a contemplative attunement to the following music, to transparency, clarity, space, breath or expanse." In addition to the special attention to the recording technology, ECM- Record slow tempos quite often. The pianist Julia Hülsmann once stated in an interview about Manfred Eicher's influence in the studio, "he takes half of the notes away from her every time." There have been many attempts to define ECM music as "a style". “The preference for slower tempos” was mentioned here, but also “the design of the spatial sound” and “the arrangement of microphones during recording”. According to Thomas Steinfeld, such attempts are “misleading. For every example that is supposed to prove the presence of a style, there are others that contradict the assumption. If you want to know what ECM actually does, the category of the network is more suitable. "

The distinctive cover design is also important for the appearance of the label. The graphic designer Barbara Wojirsch was initially responsible for the design of the cover sleeves. In the 1980s, Dieter Rehm , who also used photographs by his teacher Gerd Winner for the Works series , followed suit with a very similar approach. In addition, the design of the album covers is characterized by the fact that accompanying texts were avoided where possible.

ECM also sells the albums of the label WATT with the music of Carla Bley , Michael Mantler , Karen Mantler as well as Steve Swallow and the Brazilian label CARMO by Egberto Gismonti . Furthermore, the label JAPO was distributed via ECM , on which albums by Mal Waldron, Abdullah Ibrahim , Herbert Joos , Manfred Schoof , Urs Leimgruber and others appeared.

Numerous filmmakers such as Michael Mann ( Heat , The Insider ) or Theo Angelopoulos ( Landscape in Fog ) use music from the ECM label. Since 1991 there has also been a collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard .

Special projects

In 1996, the company brought out a book called Sleeves of Desire , which dealt with the history of the label's cover art and listed all the motifs that had appeared up to that point. The book Der Wind, das Licht , published in 2009 . ECM and the picture deepens this topic further; it contains images of the covers and texts by Thomas Steinfeld, Geoff Andrew, Katharina Epprecht, Ketil Bjørnstad and editor Lars Müller.

The book Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM contains an extensive history of the label compiled by Steve Lake and Paul Griffiths, to which around 20 authors, including Manfred Eicher himself, contributed. The book is supplemented with comments on the label by over 100 musicians, groups and artists associated with ECM, such as the director Jean-Luc Godard and the cover designer Dieter Rehm.

Nils Petter Molvær released two CD singles and a video for his debut album Khmer , a work that broke new ground with electronica elements - this initially remained a one-off experiment by ECM. In autumn 2009, ECM released DVDs of films: In addition to the film Holocene based on Max Frisch , made by Eicher, a DVD was also released with four short films by Godard, which he produced between 1993 and 2002.

Prizes and awards

Since 2008, ECM Records has been voted “Record Label of the Year” for the tenth time by the critics in the Down Beat magazine's critics poll and Manfred Eicher has been voted “Producer of the Year”. In 2011 the label also received an award from JazzWeek as Record Label of the Year .


  • Rainer Kern, Hans-Jürgen Linke, Wolfgang Sandner (Ed.): The blue sound. Music, literature, film, soundtracks: The sphere of activity of ECM and the European-American music dialogue , Wolke Verlag Hofheim 2010; ISBN 978-3-936000-83-2
  • Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths (Eds.): Horizons Touched: The Music Of ECM , Granta Books 2007; ISBN 978-1-86207-880-2
  • Lars Müller (Ed.): ECM. Sleeves of Desire. A Cover Story , Princeton Architectural Press 1996; ISBN 978-1-5689-8064-5
  • Lars Müller: The wind, the light. ECM and the Image , Lars Müller Publishers, Mannheim 2009; ISBN 978-3-03778-197-5
  • Okwui Enwezor, Markus Müller (Hrsg.): ECM - a cultural archeology . Munich, Prestel 2012. ISBN 978-3-7913-5284-8

Web links

Individual references, comments

  1. Siggi Loch , record boss out of passion . Edel: Hamburg 2010, p. 82 f.
  2. The role of Manfred Eicher is partially stylized. So the label is wrongly attributed that it started as a "musician" record company. Wolfram Knauer "Play yourself, man!" The history of jazz in Germany. Reclam, Stuttgart 2019, p. 374
  3. For the newspaper Jazzthetik it is "the most important European jazz label" (11/2009)
  4. Directory of sales partners on the ECM homepage
  5. [1] Free At Last by Mal Waldron in the ECM catalog, accessed on October 12, 2018.
  6. ECM Chronicle 1970 on . Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  7. Interview with Eicher in der Jazzthetik, No. 11, 2009, pp. 30–35.
  8. Some of these early productions no longer fit into the concept of ECM and were not reissued on CD.
  9. According to Ian Carr , Jarrett was convinced of Eicher's sound ideas, which he heard on a test press of the Chick Corea record. See Ian Carr: Keith Jarrett. London 1991, pp. 59f.
  10. Recordings by Steve Reich and Meredith Monk had already appeared on the label before .
  11. Universal Music and ECM Records extend label contract. Musikmarkt, September 27, 2011 ( Memento from September 6, 2012 in the web archive ).
  12. ECM and Streaming . Press release. In: , November 14, 2017. Accessed October 12, 2018.
  13. cit. after W. Knauer "Play yourself, man!" The history of jazz in Germany. Reclam, Stuttgart 2019, p. 372
  14. At first Carlos Albrecht and, like Kongshaug, still very young Martin Wieland from the Bauer recording studio in Ludwigsburg were responsible for the sound; The studio had to buy new equipment because of Eicher's sound ideas: “Manfred Eicher was a young producer who knew what he wanted. And in my father [Rolf Bauer] he found a like-minded technology freak with whom he got on well ”(Eva Bauer-Oppelland, quoted in Jazzthetik, 11/2009, p. 36)
  15. This makes a comparison of two versions of the title Maldoror's War Song recorded within a year with the quartet of Tomasz Stańko clear, with great differences in particular in Tony Oxley's drum sound . On the ECM recording (album Matka Joanna ) Oxley dispensed with a large part of the electronic sound generators he used on Bosonossa (GOWI) and instead used the snare drum, which was already unusual for him at the time .
  16. ^ W. Knauer "Play yourself, man!" The history of jazz in Germany. Reclam, Stuttgart 2019, p. 373
  17. a b c Thomas Steinfeld: 50 years of jazz and classical records from ECM: Musical World Heritage. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . September 30, 2019, accessed October 2, 2019 .
  18. See information about the graphic artists and working examples ; some covers were later given a different image.
  19. ^ W. Knauer "Play yourself, man!" The history of jazz in Germany. Reclam, Stuttgart 2019, p. 374
  20. Convinced again - Vijay Iyer, Manfred Eicher and ECM clear again at the DownBeat Critics Poll