A Certain Need For Space & ECM Aesthetics

Jazz- rock continued to satisfy the youthful public well into the eighties, despite the fact that admirers, the press and even the musicians wearied of it. At the end of seventies, John McLaughlin and several others returned to the virtues of the acoustic guitar.

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John McLaughlin on acoustic guitar

Instrumental stereotypes and the somewhat vain virtuosity of jazz-rock guitar players were specifically called into question. The reaction came from the musicians themselves. An airier tone, a more limpid melody, a lighter orchestral context - these qualities were sought after as musicians listened to their elders: Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Bill Evans. But they wanted to mix their own culture - pop songs and country music- in with this. Guitar players John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny found the space their aspirations required at the record label ECM.

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Wes Montgomery

ECM Aesthetics

'Editions of Contemporary Music' : the identity crisis of jazz at the time was captured in the very name of this label, which did not even dare to name the music it presented. German Manfred Eicher, a former bassist, established ECM in 1969. He was first noticed for seeking to capture a sound reminiscent of the acoustics of a concert hall rather than that of smoky club. The technical enhancements ECM employed - precision of the stereo sound and reconstitution of the echo, and the crystal-clear renderings of instruments such as the piano, the vibraphone, and the electric and acoustic guitars - displeased old discophiles but responded to what young public concerned with a certain ease in listening (even at the expense of authenticity) was waiting for.

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John Abercrombie
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Pat Metheny

Later generations, disappointed by the crumbling of revolutionary ideologies and the exhaustion of the avant-garde, have focused on defending the environment and reviving the classics. ECM  and the innumerable labels that fell in step with it suggested a new 'ecology' of recording and concert giving. The return to the acoustic piano was magnified by the solo formula, until that point still  fairly exceptional in modern jazz. Solos by Keith Jarret or Paul Bley and duets by Chick Corea with Herbie Hancock or Gary Burton publicized a chamber music. The jazz musicians now became a concert artist, and jazz concert benefited by being listened to as seriously as recitals of classical music.

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Paul Bley

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Gary Burton


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