Great New Music from ECM Records: Michel Benita & Ethics: River Silver

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ECM Records has been an important part of my musical life for 40 years and counting. My love of this label goes back to early releases such as Keith Jarrett’s first solo record, Facing You (1973) and Eberhard Weber’s Colours of Chloe (1974). Other great early releases include pianist Richie Beirach’s Eon, Dave Liebman’s Drum Ode, and countless others.

Manfred Eicher, president and founder of ECM, is one of the most uncompromising record producers I’ve ever known. ECM’s elegant and understated packaging gives the impression that each CD is treated more like a work of art than just a CD recording. More importantly, the recorded sound is pristine and state-of-the-art. While many other labels are compressing their sound to fit mobile devices, ECM records still sound fantastic on even the most hi-resolution audio systems. As a shameless audiophile, I am very happy about that. The ECM sound is peerless.

And then the music: ECM’s artist roster includes big stars like Keith Jarrett, Arvo Pärt, and Chick Corea, standard classical repertoire by the great composers, as well as new jazz and cutting-edge contemporary classical music by emerging artists.

I want to gush over a fabulous new record called River Silver by Michel Benita and his group Ethics, one of three new releases from ECM (the others are from trumpeter Avishai Cohen and the Michael Formanek ensemble).  I didn’t know about Michel Benita before hearing this new release. Benita was born in Algiers, Algeria, and is now based in Paris. His group Ethics is comprised of a koto player from Tokyo, a flugelhornist from Switzerland, a French drummer, a guitarist from Norway. The diverse background of the group’s members proves again that music is the glue that binds musicians together. The resulting alchemy created here is wonderfully original music, made up of many different musical traditions. It is deeply spiritual as well.

I rarely find myself listening to a new album over and over again, but this new recording is an exception. The musical textures and colors expressed by the mix of koto, flugelhorn, acoustic bass and sensitive application of electronics make for a unique and joyous sound. I also want to say that ECM records the acoustic bass like few other labels. It is sonic perfection.

My favorite tracks are “Back from the Moon”, “I See Altitudes”, “Off the Coast”, and ‘Yeavering”.  I mention these cuts because they are available from iTunes, but in my opinion you should listen to these as teasers, then just get the CD. Believe me, it deserves a spot in your collection.

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