ECM and Speaker’s Corner are two German-based labels that each fulfill their respective missions exceptionally well.
ECM has been releasing records since the late 1960s. The label’s best-known artists are probably Keith Jarrett and Arvo Pärt. Founded and run by Manfred Eicher, ECM (Editions of Contemporary Music), ECM is known for its uncompromising production values, crystalline recorded sound, graphics and packaging. ECM helped raise the bar production values and quality control; the 1980s label Windham Hill, though producing very different music, took the cue from ECM. In an age of downloading and ipods, ECM stubbornly perseveres and continues its tradition of excellence. The extensive ECM catalogue features both classical and jazz music.
The ECM sound: silence, space, a quest for the mystical in sound, and utter devotion to artistic individuality and creativity. Manfred Eicher has absolute respect for the artists he signs and produces. Every artist on the label benefits from the best recording studios, engineers, grand pianos, equipment, everything. No wonder a stickler like Keith Jarrett would stay at ECM for over 40 years. ECM is a rara avis.
Another uncompromising label, but with an altogether different mission, is Speakers Corner. Like ECM, Speakers Corner is based in Germany, and displays an exacting regard for detail. The Teutonic ideal of order and clarity. They reissue both jazz, pop, and classical records. The main difference between ECM and Speakers Corner is that the latter only deals in lp reissues. And what reissues they are!
I am a music nut, what the French call a melomane, have thousands of lp’s, and use old-school tube equipment. Never have I seen such production on vinyl records. The 180 gram discs are gloriously packaged and look and sound better than the originals ever could. There is no surface noise—snap, crackle, and pop—-no, the vinyl is absolutely silent. The Impulse reissues are truly the Aston Martins of vinyl. Or maybe I should say the Audi R9’s or Porsche Carrera GT’s. The care and attention to detail is phenomenal. Vinyl never sounded this good. The gatefold covers of the Impulse reissue have the original surface gloss. And, at over $30 per lp, I suppose this type of attention to detail should be expected. The only Impulse lp’s that could compare with this were all pre-1973 (think oil crisis), first generation lp’s, but even these can’t compare with Speakers Corner reissues. When I buy a Speakers Corner lp and from Elusive Disc or another audiophile record distributor and it arrives in the mail, I feel the excitement of a child getting a coveted toy. Just ask my KCRW colleague Henry Rollins about Speakers Corner records. He’ll know.
What is it about the Germans anyway? The cars, the records they produce? I don’t know, but these two labels truly stand out in a world where good sound and production have been sacrificed for portability and convenience.