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No. 187 December 2019


ECM (short for: Editions of Contemporary Music) is a record company founded in 1969 in Munich. Its founder is Manfred Eicher - musician, producer, its director. His main field of interest is jazz music, and since 1984 also classical music and a broad spectrum of composed music - this was when the "ECM New Series" series was created.
In the company's catalog you will find such names as: Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie. Poles in ECM: Tomasz Stańko, Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Maciej Obara Quartet.

When collecting material for this article, I wondered if I knew any other record label that could be compared with EDITIONS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, which we know as ECM. And, to be honest, only one publisher came to my mind, the now non-existent American company Telarc. Both have an extensive catalog of recordings, their logos appeared on discs of both less known and popular musicians, they focus on jazz and classical music recordings, they take great care of the technical side of the recordings, and both were successful both in the mainstream and in the niche, extremely demanding world of perfectionist audio.

Fred Kaplan in the article just published in the "Stereophile" suggests one more point of reference – the Blue Note Records. The company was founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and ruled by "Iron Hand", ordering performers, choosing those who played in a similar style. And like the ECM, also Blue Note has its master engineer - Rudy van Gelder. Interestingly, both labels currently belong to the same company, that is Universal Music.

Anyway, even though you can find a reference point for ECM, or even two, one thought keeps bugging me - that, in fact, the ECM has no equivalent in the world of music, is "one of the kind, "and thus elusive to others. Where does this perfection come from, how did it happen that for fifty years this Munich label has been a model for others, most often unrivaled? Although it's a simple question, the answer must be complex and even then it will be only a partial answer. Several elements made a difference: MAN, IDEA, TECHNIQUE and METHOD OF RELEASE. And, of course, SOUND. In November 2019, the company celebrates its 50th anniversary.


The story began in 1969, when MANFRED EICHERT, then 26, released the first album with the ECM logo - Free at Last of American pianist, composer and arranger - Mal Waldorn; the was the first release of the catalog number - ECM-1001. The piano trio playing jazz offered good music, which in no way prepared the market for what it started. As Michael West, a journalist at JazzTimes, wrote: „It’s doubtful that anyone who heard Free at Last in its day took particular notice of its fledgling label ” (more HERE, accessed: 18.10.2019).

Manfred Eicher and Jan Erik Kongshaug in The Power Station studio, February 1996 | Photo: ECM

However, this is how the founder's life adventure began. Because the spring, which from the beginning, until today, has been moving the label mechanism with the same intensity has been Manfred Eichert. He appears on all releases as a producer, most of them came up with and shaped them himself.

He was born in 1943 in Lindau, a Bavarian town that today lies on the border with Austria and Switzerland. Korean “Brand Balance” magazine in the issue dedicated entirely to ECM, draws attention to the fact that the town "is known for its beautiful landscapes that inspired many artists, from Otto Dix to Herman Hesse."

Manfred was a promising musician, he learned to play the violin at the age of three, and later studied music at the Music Academy in Berlin. His number one instrument was already the double bass. For some time he played at the Berlin Philharmonic, he also produced several albums for other record labels. Although he played classical music, and his mother taught him to listen to great vocal music, including Schubert and Schumann, his greatest love was jazz, primarily performed by Paul Chambers and Bill Evans.

Mal Waldorn, Free at Last | Photo

The head of ECM had a nose for artists. Despite the bad times for this type of music, he succeded with every new release. Already in 1972 the ECM releases a masterpiece of fusion music, the Chick Corea's Return to Forever, and in 1975 a two-disc (!) album with solo piano music, a recording of a concert – I am talking obviously about The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett, that sold in a staggering 3.5 million copies and is still the best-selling album with solo piano music to this day.

A year later, Eichert convinces Path Metheny, a guitarist who has already recorded for ECM, but as a member of the Gary Burton band, to record a solo record - as a result of this persuasion the Bright Size Life was created. Both Jarrett and Metheny became the best-known artists of this label. But not only them. In 1984, the founder of the record label realizes his dream and starts a new series - "ECM New Series", in which classical both old a new is released. Titles such as Tabula Rasa of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, or Officium of the vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble and saxophonist Jan Garbarek are another, multi-platinum releases.


It seems that success was a derivative of Eichert's uncompromising approach to his work. He runs the company in a completely different way than it is usually done because he starts from music and musicians, he focuses on them, and money-related matters come last. They are important, ultimately it's business, and business is all about making money. In this case, however, they are a derivative, not a driving force.

Let's quote the „Brand. Balance.” once more:

The music published by ECM for the first 15 years did not differ in any significant way from the music proposed by other labels. What made ECM stand out was Eichert's belief that one recording jazz music should use the same techniques that are used to record orchestra and chamber music. (p. 91)

Technology | And it was the quality of sound, its difference proposed by the Munich label compared to other music labels, that attracted the attention of critics, music lovers, and finally the audiophile world. The ECM founder has kept this approach till today. Because, I hope you agree, there is such a thing as the "ECM sound", right? Listening to one record we can guess how the next one will sound like. And this is a special feature because the ECM recordings are made in different places, in different studios, concert halls and even in churches. What's more, various sound engineers are responsible for them. And yet the sound consistency has been preserved to this day, i.e. it has been maintained for fifty years (!).

Rainbow Studios in Oslo, main room | Photo: ECM

What exactly is this approach? I don't know if you remember, but in June 2018 an article was published in the "High Fidelity" in which I presented the silhouette of Mr. Okihiko Sugano and his Audio Lab label. Record (HF | № 170, more HERE). If not, let me encourage you to read it. What Mr. Sugano-san proposed in Japan, on a small scale, Manfred Eichert introduced with a force and consistency in Europe, and then also in the USA.

These two producers share a tangible bond - in November 1976 Okihiko Sugano and Shinji Ohtsuka made a five-disc album for ECM - the CD version features also a bonus, sixth disc - Sun Bear Concerts another Keith Jarrett's live album. This is a coincident - although there are no coincidences - but at the moment when you read it, the Japanese Tower Records has released the SACD box with this concert. It costs 600 US dollars ...

In any case, Eichert wanted to record a jazz band in one go, with all the musicians in the same room. In the recording, the leading role was played by stereo microphones that are called "ambience" and that simply record the sound of the whole room, all instruments playing together. The instruments also had their own microphones (one or several), which recorded a close sound, and only the combination of the signal, after adding reverb, created a unique whole.

The differences between the approaches of Mr Sugano and Eichert were equally important. Let's mention the most important one: the ECM recorded music using multi-track tape recorders, and the ALR a stereo tape, the Munich studio also used additional reverberation equipment, and Mr. Sugano based only on the reverb of the room. It is amazing, however, that the results in both cases were very similar, as if the recordings came from the same man.

Repertoire | Technology is one thing, and repertoire is another. As I said, for the first fifteen years the label focused on jazz performers. The first fifteen years of its existence was a huge artistic success – let me just mention such recordings as Return to Forever by Chick Corea from 1972, The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett from 1975, I also need to recall Pat Metheny, who recorded his most important albums for ECM.

Studio Power Station in New York | photo Power Station

As I've said, Eichert has a nose for the right performers. He chooses them using some method only known to him. However, it seems that the basis for it is his personal involvement in the music of the artist. He had never been - and still isn't interested – in coterie, industry stories, or even popularity. He must "feel" the performer and his music. This approach has been nicely described by Maciej Obara - the third, as emphasized in the press materials, Pole recording for this label:

So, I envied a bit Tomek Stańko and Marcin Wasilewski, who had this Holy Grail in their hands - an album released by ECM. I dreamed about having such a chance because I love the aesthetics of this label. Where does the ECM uniqueness come from? From Eicher's openness to the individuality of each recorded artist, from the way Manfred looks at the entire spectrum of music, the richness of its elements. And from how much he personally offers when working with musicians.
Jacek Hawryluk Maciej Obara…,, 16th November 2017, accessed: 18.10.2019

Eichert relies on his intuition. As another Polish musician recording for the ECM (of course Tomasz Stańko was a pioneer), Marcin Wasilewski recalled, each musician from his trio was responsible for maybe 20% of the final effect, and the rest was due to the founder of the label. Each of the sessions looks different. Wasilewski says that their concert record, the Live album, was recorded during the Jazz Middelheim festival. They did not even know that the performance was recorded and that a release of this recording was planned. In turn, the Faithful was created in just two days.

It took even less, just one day, to record the Maciej Obara Quartet album Unloved (2017). After the first day they left the studio without any results, nothing that was recorded would have been accepted. Then, as we read in Jacek Hawryluk's article, "Obara dug up the forgotten piece of Komeda. On the second day, in an hour, they recorded the entire album Unloved”.

Covers | The music released by the ECM is often called a "music of silence", referring to Manfred Eichert's statement for the "Mono.Kultur" magazine: "Music is not about sounds. It's an arrangement of emotions over time." This message is obviously very important to him because it returns, sometimes in a bit different form, in various interviews. He told Philip Watson in an interview in 2017: "I need some kind of silence because music is also born from silence; it appears in it and then blends into it again. "

Typical ECM covers from the LP era

His other motto is: "Look for something else and not what has already been proven". Which also translates into the visual side of ECM releases. This is probably the only such record label that perfectly combines sound and graphics - the covers of their albums are treated as separate works of art. There were numerous exhibitions devoted to them, albums and monographs have been published, which talk about them such as Sleeves of Desire from 1996 and Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM from 2010; scientific studies on this subject have also been created.

And yet, as it seems, these are simple, even trivial projects. Eichert usually chooses - because he is responsible for the choice of covers - black and white photos, often blurred, and thus enigmatic, or fragments of existing images, adds simple lettering - and it's ready. Often it's just typography on a monochrome background. It seems easy, because we have become familiar with this "language" and took it for granted. And yet, just as Susie Hodge wrote in the subtitle of her contemporary art monograph: A guide to contemporary art. Why couldn't a five-year-old do it? - he couldn't just do it, because art is not only what you see, but everything that connects these visible elements, and what is unavailable to those without the "spark of God". Let me add that the strength of the "ECM project" is so great that it inspires visual artists. It also inspires other musicians, filmmakers, fashion people and journalists.

South Korean magazine „Brand. Balance”, ECM, Issue No. 30


The ECM is therefore both sound and image. The founder of the record label is primarily responsible for the sound, its concept and final shape. The magazine in the introduction to the interview with Eichert writes about him:

The founder of the ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music), Manfred Eichert, is an audiophile and producer, who has been directly involved in creation a numerous recordings of the highest quality.

source: Jonathan Saxon, Jan Erik Kongshaug (bonus): ECM Records, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek,, Sep/Oct 2012, Issue 91, accessed: 21.10.2019

With this in mind, it needs to be added that equally important are the names of the sound engineers he chose. And thanks to their collaboration, due to their skills, the "ECM sound" is now an icon.

Jan Erik Kongshaug | JAN ERIK KONGSHAUG, founder and head of Rainbow Studios from Oslo, seems to be the most important person who help to established the ECM sound. I even saw such a comparison: ECM = Jan Erik Kongshaug (in another one the latter 'M' from the ECM logo was assigned the name 'Manfred'). He is the producer responsible for the majority of ECM records, including the most important titles for this label.

This exceptional sound director worked at Arne Bendiksen Studio in Oslo since 1967; his last title for the ECM which he recorded there was Belonging by Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarrett. From 1975 to 1979 he worked at Talent Studio, also in Oslo. Ten albums by Pat Metheny were created there, as well as My Song, already mentioned, by Jarrett and Garbarek. After 1979, for five years, he worked as a freelancer, among others, for The Power Station in New York. It was there, for example, that the Pat Metheny Group Offramp was made.

ECM quite early started to use digital recording. On the photo there is a label from Zakir Hussain's LP Making Music from 1987 , recorded in Rainbow Studios in digital domain, which is confirmed by a proper inscription.

Rainbow Studios was founded in 1984 and moved to its new headquarters in 2004. Today they own a large irregularly shaped recording room with many elements shaping the room's acoustics. These are primarily Tube Traps acoustic panels, with one reflecting and the other absorbing side. In the control room they use an analog Harrison Series 12 console - Jan Erik says that he does not like mixing in the ProTools system (so-called "mix in the box"). Interestingly, he doesn't like analogue tape recorders - he worked with them until digital solutions were introduced. In 1986, he began recording sound on a Mitsubishi X-800 multi-track digital tape recorder, available since the beginning of 1986 (probably 32 tracks), then on a Sony 42-track digital tape recorder, and since 1998 he has been recording sound using a DAW , i.e. a computer workstation.


The first digital monophonic recordings were made in 1967 by Japanese engineers from the Technical Research Laboratory, i.e. the research department of the NHK national television and radio network. By 1969 they already had a working two-channel PCM digital recorder. The system worked with a sampling frequency of 32 kHz and 13 bits words. Reel video tape was used to record the signal. The next step was a recorder for the Denon company, and another system was the American Soundstream with a sampling frequency of 50 kHz, with the first LP released in 1976 (more about the beginnings of digital recording in the article Digital technology in the world of analogue. Trojan horse or a necessity?).

At the end of the 1980s, all major technology companies and record labels worked on digital audio recording devices. In 1980, MISTUBISHI presented its first digital reel tape recorder, model X-80. It was a two-channel ¼" tape recorder with 50.4 kHz sampling frequency. Only 200 pieces of this device were built. In the mid-1980s, the company developed its own ProDigi system based on a stationary head similar to Sony's Digital Audio Stationary Head. The tape recorders were available in stereo, 16-channel and 32-channel. The tape recorders worked at a sampling frequency of 44.1 or 48 kHz, with 16-bit words. They were very popular in the Nashville studios, one of them was also used by Jan Erik Kongshaug

In all Kongshaug recordings one can hear a long reverb, it's a very characteristic feature of all ECM discs. It is obtained by combining the hall's "response" and additional sound processors. Initially, Jan Erik combined the sound of the EMT classic analog reverb with the Lexicon 480L reverb - I used the same one when I prepared some recordings at the Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego. In newer recordings you can also hear its newer version, the 960L and another reverb - Bricasti M7. It is worth adding that the whole recording process with the ECM boss is always very short. It's usually one or two days for recording and one day for the mix. The head of Rainbow Studios says that Manfred Eichert never repeats the mix - once he sets the proportions, they stay that way.

Stefano Amerio | One of the most important elements of these recordings are microphones. Jan Erik uses classic Neumann U 87 and AKG 414 microphones, Sony C-800G tube microphones, as well as Shoeps microphones. He also has affordable Sontronics models that he says are "very good." In turn, in the studio in Lugano (Switzerland), the Auditorio RSI, as well as in Avatar Studios in New York, where most of the piano recordings are made, the Shoeps Omni microphones are most often used. When working with engineers specializing in classical music, however, the main microphones are different, they are a pair of Sennheisers MHK-800.

One of the biggest ECM New Series achievements, Officium by Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble | 1994; DDD disc

Interesting information about the techniques used in the recording studio is provided by another ECM sound director who has been working for this label since 2003, Stefano Amerio. He began his adventure with the album by Enrico Rava, the Easy Living, and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "Best Vocal" category for the Distances by Norma Winstone. He works in Udine (Italy). When asked about what is most important in ECM recordings, he replied:

A – music
B – musicians
C – space, where the recording was made
D – Manfred Eichert
E – sound engineer and equipment

source:, accessed: 18.10.2019

Stefano Amerio for his recordings uses Shoeps CMC64 (in ORTF setting), AKG C414 BXLS microphones and widely spaced omnipolar DPA 4000 microphones. He has used two different mixing tables in his work: the analog Studer 990 and then Studer Vista 8 digital. He emphasizes that he has NEVER used compressors for recordings. To record the drums, it uses overdrive controllers, with mild 2:1 or 3:1 attenuation with maximum reduction of 3 dB.


Cover, music, musicians and sound - all this adds up to a unique whole. That's why it's so easy to fall into the habit of buying everything that is released by ECM. Dirk Sommer, editor-in-chief of, when he came to me to Krakow said, that he once had half of the titles ever released by the ECM! And he wasn't the only one...

The easier it is to get into it, because the albums of this label are released in many different forms. At online auctions, you can buy test and promotional discs, special editions with several tracks, and even 7” singles. Vinyl records and CDs were pressed in Germany and Japan. CDs released on US market came from a German plant and had red logo, while European and Japanse versions had blue one.

ECM releases not only single discs but also „boxes” – the photo presents a box by Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette Trio (2008) and solo recordings of Chick Corea (2010)

Re-issues | The ECM regularly releases consecutive editions on both LP and Compact Disc. The Köln Concert has been released in almost a hundred versions, of which slightly less than half are digital versions. When it comes to the ECM the problem is that in subsequent editions we will not find any information about whether this is a remaster, and if so, what kind and who did it. At there are entries saying that the edition is a remaster (access: 21.10.2019). However, I have no idea how they know it - these are only presumptions.

However, there are few things that we do know. The first digital edition is always, naturally, a remaster. Also versions that were released after they started to offer 24/96 files can be considered a remaster. And finally there is a release that is definitely a remaster, which is the SACD release of the Japanese Tower Records, which says: “Flat transfer from original analog master to DSD”.

But this is still not the end of it. In Japan, ECM CDs have been released since the early 1970s. However, we can find mostly digital versions. There are Compact Discs, Gold-CDs, SHM-CDs, UHQCDs and SACDs. There are also files available in the HD store and on the Tidal Master streaming service in 24/96 quality. How does the sound change depending on the medium? That's what I want to talk about in the next part of the article.

„ECM SA-CD Hybrid Selection” | The wealth of choices can be a curse - just like in the case of ECM label. Fortunately, I had some help. On March 8, 2017, the Japanese record store chain Tower Records began publishing ECM discs in the form of hybrid SACD discs. These were the three most important titles for Manfred Eichert: Chick Corea's Return to Forever, Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert and Path Metheny's Bright Size Life. This series was continued in subsequent groups, three CDs in each, also in the following years. Until now, eighteen titles were released. And this series was the starting point for me.

An add of the first three ECM titles released on SACD, that was published in one of the Japanese magazines in 2017

For the first time with this series we received a digital remaster of analog masters made in a way we know something about. The German sound engineer, mastering artist Christoph Stickel is responsible for it. He is the owner of the Viennese CS Mastering (Christoph Stickel Mastering) studio, and he previously worked - among others - at the MSM Studios mastering studio and Horch House - in the latter as the chief engineer. It was at the Horch House that the DSD remaster for ECM was made. In this studio you will find Grimm AD1 analog-digital converters, working with DSD64 signal. The Japanese text says that: "Christoph Stickel performed flat transfer (i.e. without any processing – ed.) of the signal from the original, analog "master" tapes to DSD, under the supervision of ECM".

I chose three representative titles for comparison, ones that I also like the most:
|1| GARY BURTON & CHICK COREA | Crystal Silence |1973|
|2| KEITH JARRETT | The Köln Concert |1975|
|3| PAT METHENY GROUP | Offramp |1982|

It gave me an insight into different approaches, work of various sound engineers, different studios and different instruments. For each title I chose two "core" editions: the first edition on the LP and the release on the SACD. Between them I also reached for the first CD releases, gold CDs, as well as SHM-CDs and UHQCDs. In the case of Metheny's album, I also listened to the promotional Japanese LP version. And finally, I listened to the files encoded in MQA, available on the Tidal streaming service.


I performed the listening session using the "High Fidelity's" reference system, with two signal sources: the SME Model 12 turntable, with the MySonic Lab Eminent Ex cartridge and the RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phono preamplifier, as well as with the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player (№ 1/50); I listened to the files using the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge streamer.

„High Fidelity” reference system

|1| GARY BURTON & CHICK COREA | Crystal Silence |1973|

First releases LP | Gary Burton & Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, ECM Records ECM 1024 (1973)
SACD | Gary Burton & Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, ECM Records/Tower Records • Universal Music LLC PROZ-1091, „ECM SA-CD Hybrid Selection”, SACD/CD (1973/2017)
SHM-CD | Gary Burton & Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, ECM Records/Universal Classics & Jazz UCCU-5728, „All Of Jazz”, SHM-CD (2016)
UHQCD | Gary Burton & Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, ECM Records/Universal Classics & Jazz UCCE-9332, „ECM 50th Anniversary”, UHQCD (2019)
CD | Gary Burton & Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, ECM Records ECM 1024 (674 3112), Mini LP CD (1973/2019)

The album was recorded on November 6, 1972 at Arne Bendiksen Studio (Østerdalsgaten 1, Vålerengen, Oslo, Norway) by Jan Erik Kongshaug. Almost 30 years later, the artists released the double album The New Crystal Silence (2008), this time at Concord Records. These are recordings made in a duo which - as it is said - moved chamber music to a jazz idiom. As Corea himself said, the playing "turned into something magical". The album features five Corea compositions that are part of the jazz canon, like Crystal Silence, Senor Mouse and Children’s Song. Let's add that the latter has become an inspiration for the series of miniatures. The album also includes three tracks by Steve Swallow.


SACD | Comparing the original LP pressing to the SACD version was a big experience for me. It was immediately clear that the digital version sounds darker and has a lower center of gravity. It was amazing - the analog sounded higher and brighter! The SACD disc also sounded denser and more saturated. I got a better filled space with it, in which not only large elements mattered, but also details.

But it was also clear that this LP version is more dynamic. I also had no doubts about the fact that the vinyl record delivered a more tangible sound. The piano had a stronger, more sonorous attack, and the vibraphone had longer reverb, dense with harmonics. The SACD disc warmed it up a bit and subjected it to a slight homogenization - small, but still. More importantly with it were the low tones, it showed more space, and the LP version emphasized the foreground, showed the instruments closer and clearer.

In the SACD version the noise is heard more strongly than in other editions - it is simply the noise of the analog master tape. It didn't bother me at all, but for an untrained ear it can be associated with a worse sound. It's definitely not, it's simply an expression of high resolution.

„ECM SA-CD Hybrid Selection” is coated with a special turquoise paint chosen for its optical properties. This idea was examined first on SHM-SACD and Platinum SHM-CDs.

SHM-CD | The 2016 SHM-CD is also darker than LP. It has lower resolution, both from LP and SACD, but maintains the tonal balance that the latter showed. So it's darker than vinyl, but it's also more dense. The dynamics on the SHM-CD is not that good and the vibraphone's attack is not as clear-cut, as obvious as with both aforementioned discs. The differences also apply to space. Now it was less differentiated and less selective. Both instruments seemed to be at the same distance, although on LP and SACD it was clear that the sound engineer placed the vibraphone closer, leaving more space behind for the piano.

UHQCD | That is why the UHQCD version of 2019 turned out to be such a revelation. It was darker than the LP - this is apparently a feature of all the digital remasters of this album - but the sonority of the piano and vibraphone was much better than in all previous versions, both digital and LP. The bodies of instruments were not as good, not as full as with on the LP and SACD, but there was a better space, there was also better a resolution than with SHM-CD. Dynamic differentiation was as good as on SACD and only LP was better in this respect. The SACD showed bigger plans, had greater momentum, but in terms of timbre UHQCD was closer to the original LP.

CD | If you want to hear why you should pay twice as much for a CD from Japan and four times more for a SACD, just listen to the regular European release of this CD. Its sound is much more muffled and the sound stage is smaller. The dynamics are also less varied. Fortunately, this is not the whole story. After a few days, when I wasn't listening to LP or any other version, I came back to this release. And what happened? - That's a great sound! The ECM offers real class in every release and it is difficult to point out a comparable sound on a modern jazz map. It can be done even better, see above, but even in its basic form it is a model sound.

|2| KEITH JARRETT | The Köln Concert |1975|

First Release LP | Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM Records ECM 1064/65, 2 x LP (1975)
Universal CD | Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM Records ECM 1064/65 Y (810 067-2), CD (1975/1984)
Gold-CD | Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM Records/Universal Music Company UCCE-9011, „Keith Jarrett Solo Piano Gold Collection”, Gold-CD (1975/2001)
PolyGram CD | Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM Records ECM 1064/65 (810 067-2), CD (1975/2005)
UHQCD | Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM Records/Universal Music LLC UCCE-9336, UHQCD (1975/2019)
SACD | Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM Records/Tower Records PROZ-1087, „ECM SA-CD Hybrid Selection”, SACD/CD (1975/2017)

This album was recorded during a concert that took place on January 24, 1975 at the opera house in Köln (Germany). A double album was released on November 30th the same year. There is a known story associated with the concert. The event was organized by Vera Brandes, seventeen at the time. Jarrett asked for the powerful Bösendorfer 290 Imperial piano for this concert. An error crept into communication with the opera management, and the piano was not brought in. It took a long time to convince Jarrett not to cancel the concert and recording.

Instead of Bösendorfer, they had to quickly prepare the small “baby grand” piano standing in the back of the stage. It was a small, rattled instrument that required as many as seven hours of repair and tuning before it could be played. Jarrett turned out to be a true master - because the piano sounded thin and the pedals did not work properly, the pianist adapted the style and manner of playing. The concert started very late, at 23.30, after an opera performance, with a really poor instrument, a musician who ate little after a long journey from Switzerland, who was also tormented by back pain - it is a miracle that as a result of a combination of so many adversities a record that was created turned out to be a real masterpiece.

The sound was recorded by Martin Wieland using a pair of tube Neumann U67 microphones and a portable Telefunken M-5 tape recorder. Let's add that one track was excluded from all digital versions The Encore on side 4. The first CD release was pressed by PolyGram in EDC.


Universal CD |1994| This is a release, which offers a strong, open sound of the vinyl original. As if the devices used for its preparation (A/D converters?) were really very transparent and added less from themselves than each other CD release. The foreground is closer on this album, and the piano has a larger mass than on the LP. In fact, it sounds like a large instrument rather than an exercise instrument. The sound, however, is less differentiated than in later digital editions, it is more "sticky".

Gold-CD | This is a very interesting version, because it is clearly smoother than the previous version and the later version from 2005, it is also simply nicer. This is a difficult category to define, but that's what I felt after listening to it. The sound attack is clearly rounded. On the other hand, the piano has a sound volume similar to what I heard on the LP. It is placed at a similar distance and has as much air around it as it does on vinyl. Both digital CD versions from Europe lose somehow this aspect of the sound.

PolyGram CD |2005| This late release of the digital version of Jarrett's concert is surprisingly good. Its sound is darker than the analogue original, it has a lower resolution, but these are no very big changes. The dynamics were splendidly captured, which does not differ in any significant way from the one found on vinyl. I was very positively surprised by the high quality of the sound – it was highly enjoyable.

Gold-CD with changed disc print

UHQCD | The UHQCD version from 2019 seems to combine the advantages of the Polydor CD version and the gold CD from Japan. Its sound is very resolving and incredibly dynamic. Although the tonal balance is also lower than on the LP, it does not close the treble, which is strong and vibrant. The size of the instrument is splendidly shown here, which is not large, but which has the right dynamics and impact. The space in which the instrument is located is also fantastic, as well as its distance to us. And for the first time I heard pedaling so clearly, an inseparable part of the play that was suppressed even on LP. It gave the performance a higher level realism and due to that I liked UHQCD the most.

SACD | That is until I listened to the SACD version. It is tonally and dynamically the closest to the LP version. Except for the first time it was not a zero-one comparison, because the UHQCD was an equally good choice. This is an information for the owners of CD players - the UHQCD version sounds better than the CD layer from a hybrid CD and is very close to what you will hear from the SACD layer and from the vinyl itself.

|3| PAT METHENY GROUP | Offramp |1982|

Personel: Pat Metheny (guitar, guitar synthesizer), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (basses), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion, berimbau, voice), Dan Gottlieb (drums)

First LP issue | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM Records 1216-2/2301 216, LP (1982)
First Japanese PROMO LP issue | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM Records/Trio Records PAP-25533, PROMO LP (1982)
Universal M&CD (pierwsze wydanie na CD) | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM Records/Warner Bros. Records 1216-2, CD (1982/1983)
Gold-CD | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM Records 1216-2, „Universal Jazz The Best – 43”, Gold-CD (1982/2004)
PolyGram CD | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM Records/Universal Music LLC UCCE-9347, UHQCD (1982/2019)
UHQCD | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM Records/Universal Classics & Jazz UCCE-9347, „ECM 50th Anniversary”, UHQCD (2019)
SACD | Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM/Tower Records PROZ-1095, „ECM SA-CD Hybrid Selection”, SACD/CD (1982/2017)

The Offramp album was recorded in October 1981 on a multi-track tape recorder at Power Station in New York, and mixed at Talent Studio in Oslo; The PS studio was founded by John Bonjovi. Jan Erik Kongshaug is responsible for the recording - apart from the B2 track - and the mix, and Barry Bongiovi was the assistant. This studio - now called Avatar Studios - is known primarily for rock music recordings - that's where Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Joe Cocker, Bobby McFerrin, Bruce Springsteen (Born In The USA), etc., were recorded. On September 11, 1981, in the same studio as Offramp, after 18 hours of overlays, the Under Pressure song by Queen with David Bowie's vocal was completed; Recently they made the Sting's 57th & 9th (2016) album there.

Offramp won the Grammy Award in the "Best Jazz Fusion Performance" category. On the album, Pat Metheny first used a guitar synthesizer, the Roland GR-300 model, controlled by the Roland GR-300 module. From this time on, it has been the most often used instrument by this musician. An interesting fact - all European editions of CDs feature the "DDD" sign on them, although it is known that this is an analog recording and an analog mix. The first CD release was released simultaneously in Europe and the USA in 1983. The discs were pressed, however, in the same plant - “Made and printed in West Germany by PolyGram for Warner Bros. Records Inc."


PolyGram CD | The CD version is clearly quieter than the LP, which would indicate a slightly different use of compressors when cutting vinyl. What's more, you can also immediately hear that the bass on the CD is deeper, lower. For the first time the digital version sounded in a more resolving way. Please do not misunderstand me, vinyl sounds very good, but this CD is even more impressive. The treble is smoother, a bit dull, but not enough to close the sound. The original LP sounds higher, a little brighter and brings more information about cymbals differentiation. But tonal balance and so-called "presence" - are better with CD.

Universal M&L CD | The newer version of the CD is similar in color to the previous one, but differs from it in several elements. The tonal balance is set higher here - not much, but it is - making the sound attack seem stronger. The first release seems absolutely smooth, and here you can hear a slight "ringing". And in the first CD the bass was better defined. It is still a fantastic, resolving sound.

Gold-CD | Ah, "gold"! It is a timeless medium and it is simply almost doesn't happen that any album released on gold does not sound enjoyable. Same goes for the Offramp. It's a version that combines the saturation and density of the first CD release with a stronger picture of subsequent releases. It is slightly warmer than them, the attack is more rounded, and the bass is not well defined, these are the disadvantages of "gold". But despite this, in this version I heard the atmosphere of the recordings, their depth, melancholy. Let's add that the glass matrix for this release was burned with the help of an atomic ruby clock (Rubidium Atomic Clock CD Cutting).

UHQCD | Once again, it turns out that the closest to the vinyl original, and in this case also sometimes better, is the UHQCD version. It has the same timbre, equally high dynamics as the LP, it is also equally open. It's an album on which stories are told in a similar tone as on vinyl, but with even better defined, more multicolored and more dynamic bass. It is not as smooth, as warm sound as from the gold version, but it is simply the most true one. And this dynamics!

A sticker from the Japanese version of PROMO LP from 1982

SACD | The SACD turned out to be the golden mean, combining the Gold-CD and UHQCD versions. It was not as dynamic as the UHQCD, nor as smooth as "gold". But it showed a coherent image, dense, filled, and at the same time dynamic enough. And the presentation of cymbals was simply the best of all releases - they had great resolution and "weight".


Even such an extensive introduction to the "world" of ECM can only touch the surface of the whole matter. After all, we didn't say a word about Manfred Eichert's fascination with cinema and recordings related to it, nor did we say anything about the role of this producer in creating European jazz. We've also barely touched the role of improvisation and free jazz recordings in the label's catalog.

omasz Stańko recorded albums for ECM in various configurations and with different musicians.

It should be, however, already clear, at least I hope it is, what caliber of record label we are dealing with. The ECM is a company-institution that is a reference point for many other creators and a reason to feel envy (even if they don't want to admit it). The label created its own style of work, as well as the characteristic sound that no one else has been able to recreate. Manfred had help from other people, especially the sound engineers, in achieving that. However, the people who bought his albums helped him the most - and they (i.e. us) are the hidden heroes of this article.

ECM Records/Verlag
Edition Zeitgenössische Musik GmbH
Postfach 600 331
D - 81203 München | GERMANY



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