The best ECM albums reveal why the label’s unique style and sound has made it one of the most forward-thinking jazz record labels of all time.
Published on March 15, 2021 | By Charles Waring
It wouldn’t be totally inaccurate to describe the German jazz label ECM as “the house that Keith Jarrett built.” After all, the American pianist’s 1975 album The Köln Concert has sold a staggering three and a half million copies and undoubtedly helped to establish – both financially and aesthetically – Manfred Eicher’s Munich-based imprint. More than that, Jarrett’s success transformed ECM into major contender in the jazz world, and the best ECM albums reveal an astonishing commitment to quality control that has more than ensured its place in the jazz pantheon.
But while Jarrett, who first recorded for the company in late 1971 and, 48 years later, still records for it, had a big part to play in the label’s success, it was producer Manfred Eicher whose vision made ECM a reality. Launching the company in November 1969 (with American pianist Mal Waldron’s album Free At Last), he steadily built ECM into one of the most unique labels in jazz, with its own distinctive sound, style, and look.
In 2019, ECM is still at the cutting edge of contemporary jazz, as our pick of the label’s 50 best albums prove. Think we’ve missed any? Let us know in the comments section, below.
Listen to the best of ECM Records on Apple Music and Spotify, and scroll down for our 50 best ECM albums.
Best ECM Albums: 50 Must-Hear Classics From The Legendary Jazz Label
50: Mal Waldron: Free At Last (1970)
On November 24, 1969, this well-regarded 44-year-old New York pianist/composer, who was then living in Europe, made history by leading ECM’s first-ever recording session. The resulting trio album, Free At Last, with its bold experimentation, encapsulated some of the musical virtues that later became synonymous with ECM’s unique philosophy.
Key track: “Balladina”
49: Julian Priester And Marine Intrusion: Polarization (1977)
An in-demand trombonist from Chicago, Priester has played with everyone from Dinah Washington to Sun Ra and Herbie Hancock, but only made a handful of solo albums. This was his second – and final – ECM album, recorded with a sextet in Germany. The music is by turns contemplative and energetic, but is sufficiently probing and cerebral to fit the archetypal ECM template.
Key track: “Wind Dolphin”