Manfred Eicher: "You Can't Record Everybody" Fred Kaplan's 10 Favorite ECM Jazz Albums

Sidebar: Fred Kaplan's 10 Favorite ECM Jazz Albums

I don't pretend to have heard more than a fraction of ECM's vast catalog, but these are the 10 ECM jazz albums that I like best—on musical criteria, though the sound on these is never worse than quite good. I'm including only albums produced by Eicher, not the few he reissued (for instance, Jimmy Giuffre's 1961) or discovered in some tape vault (such as Paul Bley's When Will the Blues Leave). In alphabetical order:


Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys

Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee

Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Crystal Silence

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Album Album

Charlie Haden/Carla Bley: The Ballad of the Fallen

Dave Holland: Conference of the Birds

Keith Jarrett: Paris/London: Testament

Keith Jarrett Standards Trio: The Out-of-Towners

Paul Motian/Joe Lovano/ Bill Frisell: Time and Time Again

Dewey Redman/Don Cherry/Charlie Haden/Ed Blackwell: Old and New Dreams

dbtom2's picture

And created a playlist. Thank you Mr. Kaplan.

Before ECM titles became available on Tidal, the were the only label I was purchasing (CD format). I didn't mind - the quality seemed well worth it. It's a little harder now to pull the trigger on a music purchase when so much of it is instantly available to stream. Now that i know Mr. Eicher a little better - thanks to this piece - maybe I can justify some new CDs that way.

Wish I hadn't read the part about Garberek's sax sound. His music (and Pat Metheney's) brought me to ECM in the first place.

Enjoyed this. Thank you.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Keep your eye on the print magazine. A review of the latest / last Garbarek / Hilliard Ensemble live recording is coming before long.

MFK's picture

Thanks for this great article. I'm sure the comments will be indundated with readers' favourite ECM releases. My picks: John Abercrombie, Timeless, w/Jan Hammer, Jack De Johnette and Chick Corea, Return To Forever. Stan Clarke's bass playing is mind blowing.

mmole's picture

...on "Timeless" and would add "Gateway" and "Gateway 2" with Abercrombie, DeJohnette, and Dave Holland. As a matter of fact, all of the Abercrombie albums on ECM are first rate.

Gone too soon.'s picture

"Blue Note in its heyday catalogued the experimental reaches of late-1940s bebop (from Thelonious Monk to Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool) and the backbeat-driven, two-horn harmony slick of late-1950s post-bop (Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane's Blue Train). By contrast, ECM has explored the quieter, more complex, almost spiritual side of jazz. Blue Note embodied the hip modern jazz of the New York scene; ECM has presented a headier, in some ways more European perspective..."

More complex? Nah, but in fairness you do follow all this up with, "Both tendencies can be overstated". Nonetheless, I'll never like the way you write about jazz; you genuinely do seem to believe the European aesthetic to be superior. You've said stuff like this before. Whatever- when you don't get it you just don't get it and no one will begrudge you enjoying music on your terms. "Backbeat driven, two harmony slick"- can you be any more reductive or condescending (at least you didn't say "streetcorner" or "jive")? Or, for that matter, wrong...

Fred Kaplan's picture

I don't mind if you don't like the way I write about jazz, but I'm gobsmacked that you think I prefer "the European aesthetic" and that I've "said stuff like this before." Stuff like what? To clarify matters, I think I've made it pretty clear over the years - and even in this article - that this isn't true.

Pete Young's picture

Was Collin Walcott really British? ("British tabla player Collin Walcott") Wikipedia has him down as "North American", but his website biography doesn't mention his birthplace.

TNtransplant's picture

Okay, after I wrote the above subject title, realized list included British bassist Holland's album -- which is a masterpiece, a totem of 70's jazz, and perhaps one of my top 10 favorite albums of any genre. Very interesting observation regarding the Motian/Moran/Potter recording vs. live. Didn't hear that group but did hear Motian/Frisell/Lovano a couple of times at the Vanguard so need to re-listen to 'Time and Time Again'.

Great top 10 favorite list as well. Agree with above comments on the omission of Abercrombie, might have slotted in Timeless or Gateway instead of one of the Jarrett choices. And maybe pick the first DeJohnette Special Edition though as I recall that also did a poor job of capturing David Murray's sax and bass clarinet.

Oh, and I would have tried to squeeze in an Egberto Gismonti title, possibly Magico. (Despite your misgivings any ECM list really does need to include at least one album with Garbarek!)

But aside from the Holland (who has been based* in the US so long doesn't really count) how about a supplementary list of favorite 'Euro' ECM titles?

And while much has been written about ECM, and of course Blue Note over the years, I don't recall much mention of another wonderful European-based label documenting 70's jazz: Black Saint/Sout Note. Future project?

* sorry couldn't resist

Jim Austin's picture
Black Saint/Sout Note. Future project?
Great label(s). Not a bad idea. Jim Austin, Editor Stereophile
TNtransplant's picture

Yeah, I know there was supposed to be a distinction between the more avant-garde Black Saint and Soul Note but it seemed a bit arbitrary to me towards the end...

And after thinking about it a bit, there was a fair amount of crossover between artists appearing on both ECM and Black Saint/Soul Note (Bley, Haden, Murray, Frisell, Motian, Enrico Rava, etc.) as well as Steeplechase, and interesting contrast in the recording aesthetics favored by the principals of those respective labels.

Further, how those differences are captured/resolved (or not?) by different brands and/or components at varying price points within the same brand's product line using "real" or "meaningful" musical examples.

This is present to some extent, at least informally, in almost all reviews but could it be standardized in some fashion to serve as a basis for occasional panel listening sessions with a few of your review staff to better understand their individual perspectives/biases?

Kind of a counterpart to complement JA(1) measurements...

Jim Austin's picture

The thing I listen for most in a system is the clarity of expression of the intentions of the musicians and the recording engineers. That is my "absolute sound." So I get what you're saying here.

Each of our writers brings their own aesthetic, standards, and voice. I don't want to impose on that too much--but the notion of a review as a sort of listening journal, with specific musical examples, is ubiquitous at Stereophile. It is something I expect from every review.

Jim Austin, Editor

JP Thomas's picture

I've enjoyed Fred's jazz writing on Slate, and thought this was a great bird's eye view of the ECM story.

I also enjoyed Ethan Iverson's recent pick list of 50 ECM favorites (on the Tidal website). He tried not to double up on artists very much, so certain classic and/or influential albums aren't present (like Metheny's "Brigth Sized Life"). I found the list more valuable for the picks I wasn't familiar with in any case. The classic stuff I'm mostly aware of. Iverson's list is here: