Triskel Christchurch is set to host its second ECM Weekend. Don O’Mahony talks to Triskel’s artistic director Tony Sheehan about what’s involved in celebrating the prestigious label.
IT IS said that the motto of the Munich-based label ECM Records is “the most beautiful sound next to silence”. It’s a bold claim for anyone to make, but for this prestigious label it serves to reflect the breadth of musical styles and genres represented by its significant roster of artists.
Broadly speaking its musical interests span classical, jazz and world music, but it is equally unfettered by temporal restraints, with 15th-century and early music repertoire sitting side by side with the most contemporary fusions of sounds.
Label founder Manfred Eicher started out as a double bass player but he soon came to realise he had more to contribute behind a mixing desk than in front of it.
His abilities as a producer and label boss soon became apparent and since its foundation in 1969 ECM is home to some of the contemporary giants of jazz as well as the great names of contemporary classical music.
“If you’re a jazz musician and ECM records you it is a particular mark of achievement internationally,” says Tony Sheehan, artistic director of Triskel Arts Centre.
“It is international recognition. And the core of that recognition is that you are among the best in the world, and that’s a reputation that they have built up since Manfred Eicher started the label in the late 1960s.”
As a youth, Sheehan was given a copy of an album by The Jan Garbarek Group, the outfit led by the Norwegian jazz saxophonist whose name they bear. It would expand his musical thinking.
He recalls: “I had never heard anything like this before. This was back in 1985 now. Obviously like any other jazz fan I’d listened to a lot of American jazz, but here was a European jazz and a Norwegian jazz and at the time that was an entirely new sound. It was very exciting.”
He soon began to discover more about the label, that it was home to such artists as Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny and Ralph Towner.
“All of the top jazz artists in the world have, at one time or another, recorded with them,” says Sheehan.
“And any time I bought an ECM recording I was just completely bowled over just by the sheer brilliance of the music, and for me it became the standard by which I judged music.”
Describing ECM as the gold standard for jazz music, Sheehan says: “I always wanted to have a gold standard of some kind for us, and ECM, it seemed to me, was worth aspiring to.”
Looking back over his time at the Triskel and even before that, he noted the amount of ECM-associated artists who performed at the venue, stretching way back.
In early 2015, Sheehan made contact with the label with a proposal of doing something together and before long he was in direct conversation with Eicher himself.
From that came last year’s inaugural ECM Weekend at the Triskel, which saw four concerts take place featuring June Tabor, Arve Henriksen, John Potter, Iain Ballamy and Thomas Strønen as well as discussions, screenings of documentaries and the hosting of listening sessions in Plugd Records.
“So our first ECM, we established our rapport with the label, and the great thing for us, we were able to bring together all the other elements of our arts centre, namely the record shop, because it’s a record label, and the cinema, because ECM does cinema,” reports Sheehan.
This year’s festival revolves around three evening concerts featuring Ralph Towner, the Marcin Wasilewski Trio and Anja Lechner and François Couturier.
The weekend opens with a performance from German cellist Anja Lechner and French pianist François Couturier. In 2014, the duo recorded Moderato Cantabile, an album that features works by outsider musicians such as G.I. Gurdjieff, Komitas, and Federico Mompou. No stranger to Cork, Lechner has performed at the West Cork Music Festival, and a concert she gave during the 2013 jazz festival, where she was accompanied by Dino Saluzzi and Felix Salucci, left the audience stunned.
American multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer and arranger Ralph Towner will play the Saturday evening.
“Guitar heads will come to Ralph Towner because he’s a legend. That simple,” says Sheehan.
“He’s at the same level as Pat Metheny. And in fact many of his concerts, he deliberately eschews large venues; he likes to play acoustically if he can, so we’re perfect for him in that sense.”
Closing the weekend is the Marcin Wasilewski Trio.
“The trio have gone from strength to strength,” offers Sheehan. “Their last album was called Spark of Light with the tenor sax player Joachim Wilder, and it’s a beautiful album. There’s a strong Cork following and a Cork Polish following for the trio so we’re kinda excited that they’re the finale concert this year.”
The ECM Weekend at Triskel Christchurch features Anja Lechner and François Couturier at 8.30pm tomorrow night, Friday, November 25; Ralph Towner on Saturday, November 26; and the Marcin Wasilewski Trio on Sunday, November 27. Tickets are €25/€23.