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2018 10 Feb

ECV – Sticks and Stones

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Just a footnote to my post about Marc Copland, not really a full blown review:

The new trio album, ECV by Canadian guitarist Roddy Ellias, Marc Copland and bassist Adrian Vedady really hits the chamber jazz sweet spot for me. It’s an all acoustic, superbly recorded album that blends folk, jazz, classical and avant- garde compositional techniques with plenty of room for blowing. This is a highly pleasurable listen from start to finish. There are mostly melodic pieces, but also a few that are pretty abstract, and even one that uses what sounds a lot like 12 tone techniques.

Overall it’s a downtempo affair, but it’s anything but sleepy background music. Lots of odd time signatures, contrapuntal writing and very deep listening going on. Copland responds perfectly to everything his band mates throw his way, making him a consummate accompanist. His solos are especially on point in this setting. Bassist Adrian Vedady, who I am unfamiliar with, has a bright tone and aggressive attack, similar to Eddy Gomez. He’s a supportive player, though his solos don’t immediately grab me, but will perhaps sink in over time.

As there are so few jazz players who have made the acoustic guitar their main instrument, it would be facile to describe Ellias’s writing and playing as similar to Towner’s. Towner’s writing has a signature sound that can be broken down into his neoclassical work, his world influenced writing and on occasion, a straight-ahead sound. While Ellias seems to mine those same veins of musical ore, somehow he comes up with a sound that doesn’t bring Towner to mind as much as one would think. His melodies are more angular, and his chord structures just don’t sound like Ralph’s. It’s like two master painters with slightly different palettes. As I’m not very familiar with Ellias’s work, it will take time to get to know his individual sound. I do like his writing, very much. As a soloist, Ellias is generally more spare, and his improvisational approach tends to be a bit more abstract than Towner’s.

The best thing I can say about this new recording is that I listened to it no less than 3 times yesterday.  It can be purchased (and at the best price I could find,) through

I believe in Zufall (chance).

I guess it was before 1995 when I became aware of Marc Copland, so it was just the same time when Brian met the music of Marc Copland. It was the time when the internet stepped out from governmental, universitary or military institutions to conquer the world and knit a world wide web. In those days it was not so easy to do things like this:


I’ll be exploring his back catalog for many years to come.


Nowadays it’s simple. Just visit Discogs or Spotify (as I did yesterday) and you’ll find an abundant number of recordings of Marc Copland.

How did it happen – maybe in 1993 – that I heard Marc Copland? You know (or even not) that German TV-stations didn’t broadcast a full 24-hour-program then. The station 3sat for example showed overnight only Teletext, underlaid by Jazz and some additional information about the presented tune. On average I visited 2 or 3 times a month this nightly hours of 3sat when I couldn’t find sleep or when I woke up early in the morning. One morning I listened to an electrifying Piano Trio, Marc Copland treating the keys, as I could read. A few days later I got the CD. Two Way Street is the title of this fine album, starting and ending surprisingly muscular. In between you’ll find wonderful balladesque versions of M.A.S.H. and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Zingaro. You listen to an imaginative pianist with a highly individual use of harmonies, fine melodic lines, in conversation with his tasteful partners Dieter Ilg on bass and Ralph Penland on drums. Songs Without End never found the way to Germany, I presume.


Booklet remarks by John Abercrombie

I lost sight of him, like you Brian, not because of descending interest, but rather than lack of offerings. I discovered one more album, What’s Goin On, with Dieter Ilg and Jeff Hirshfield. This time the notes in the booklet are created by Marc Copland.


Booklet remarks by Marc Copland

It was rather late, when I focussed on this great artist again, not since Copland is cooperating with ECM, which started not before 2013. The label Pirouet from München had been the home of Copland for a long time, as far as I see from 2003 until 2012. In this period 3 highly important albums had been released, gems in my collection.


I know that Marc Copland started his musical career as a saxophone player, a fact which is well documented on the Pirouet website.


Marc Copland, 1948 in Philadelphia geboren, beherrschte das Altsaxophon Mitte der 1970er Jahre vorzüglich, kollaborierte in New York mit arrivierten Kollegen wie Ralph Towner, Chico Hamilton und John Abercrombie. Doch irgendwann spürte er, dass etwas falsch lief. „Die Musik, die ich spielte, war nicht die Musik, die mir im Kopf herumging.“ Von einem Tag auf den anderen legte er das Horn zur Seite, zog sich völlig aus der Szene zurück und begann, das Geheimnis des Elfenbeins zu ergründen. Zehn Jahre verschwand er von der Bildfläche, übte verbissen und studierte andere Pianisten. 1985 fühlte er sich endlich bereit für den Start in die zweite Karriere. Ein Novum, ein Unding!


Another important label is hatOLOGY, where Copland recorded several albums between 2002 and 2011, including Marc Copland And … & Impressions (Duo with Dave Liebman).

I can’t say more than Brian about Marc Copland, except of that I witnessed him live at the wonderful Jazz Club Birdland in Neuburg/Donau – a deep experience.

Thanks to Brian for singing the praise of Marc.


Sometimes an artist just sneaks up on you. You know about him, listen to him on different recordings, and one day, you just realize just how special he/she is.

I first became aware of Marc Copland on Songs Without End, a 1994 duo album with Ralph Towner. Copland was the perfect partner for Towner’s evanescent guitar. It’s not always easy to find that balance between piano and guitar, two chordal instruments that share a lot of the same sonic space, but these two found more than balance – they found the creative flexibility to sound almost orchestral, not just avoiding stepping on one another’s toes, but finding a synergistic platform that goaded each of them on, a good example being their interpretation of “Nardis,” which ascends to greater heights with every chorus.

When I think of Copland’s playing, words like elegant, understated and lyrical come immediately to mind. Copland uses his head and thinks on his feet, yet never loses touch with his heart, making for an appealing listening experience that is at once both intellectually stimulating and emotionally compelling. Although he continued to record through the 90s and into the new century, I lost sight of him until he began recording on the ECM label with John Abercrombie. Abercrombie found the perfect foil in Marc Copland. The two seemed to have a telepathic connection, and Copland delved deeply into Abercrombie’s obtuse harmonies. He was on only 2 quartet albums with Abercrombie on ECM, 39 Steps and sadly, John’s very last album, the stunning Up and Coming (easily of the best albums of 2017.) Both are essential albums for any lover of contemporary jazz.

Copland is one of those pianists who is forever on the road to new discoveries. He never seems to go for the obvious thing; he is simply incapable of playing a lick. A supple and elastic player who can be surprisingly muscular at times, he is also one of the most melodic pianists on today’s scene. He is one among a shortlist of players who, over the years, have honed their unique voice in an overcrowded field of post-Evans sound-alikes.

After rediscovering Copland, I was dismayed that there were only two albums of him with John Abercrombie. Or so I thought – then I happily discovered there are earlier associations with Abercrombie that go all the way back to 1990. I recently spent an unnaturally warm winter afternoon cycling to Sebastopol, listening to Marc’s album Another Day (Pirouette-2008) which features Abercrombie, Drew Gress, Billy Hart, and it’s every bit as rewarding as either of the ECM quartet albums. (Incidentally, there’s also a duet album with Abercrombie, titled Speak to Me, which I am trying to get ahold of.)

I also discovered Alone, one of several solo titles on his Pirouet label. Nestled between reimagined standards such as „Soul Eyes“ and „I Should Care“, are completely reharmonized versions of three early Joni Mitchell tunes, „I don’t know Where I stand“, „Rainy Night House“ and „Michael from Mountains“. Not many jazz pianists are drawn to folk artists for inspiration, but here Copland finds a lot of play with. Above the subtly applied dissonance and metallic voicings, it’s all about melody. In her early days, Mitchell wrote beautiful melodies and Copland finds much to dig into. His originals, such as the mysterious „Night Whisperers“ and the evocative „Into Silence“, fall nicely between the cracks.

I discovered another gem on TIDAL, an album he made with the late Michael Brecker, entitled Marc Copland And … It’s a real find. Oddly enough, the aggressive post-bop sound that characterizes much of this recording is punctuated by three distinctly different versions of Paul Simon’s “Old Friends”. Each of his reharmonizations of one of Simon’s most heartfelt tunes is a little miracle.

Another association worth mentioning is the collaborative trio with Abercrombie and Kenny Wheeler. They made two excellent albums for the Challenge label, Brand New (1999) and That’s for Sure (2008.) It’s a treat hearing these masters laying down Wheeler and Abercrombie tunes in an intimate trio with no drums or bass. Both are well worth picking up, especially if you’re a rabid Wheeler fan, as I am.

Before closing, I must also mention the Gary Peacock Trio, whose album Tangents was one of 2017’s best trio releases. I saw them in concert last spring at SF Jazz ECM festival, sadly in a way, because the Abercrombie Quartet had originally been scheduled, but John was quite ill and had cancelled his west coast tour. It was an incredibly dynamic performance, and one of the highlights of my concert going adventures last year. It was my first time seeing Copland live – a powerful and moving experience. Copland manages to be both delicate and visceral, his flowing lines fly like magical arrows that always hit their target.

At times I hear a little Richie Beirach, other times I hear the late John Taylor, yet the more I listen to Marc Copland, the more I hear Marc Copland. I’ll be exploring his back catalog for many years to come.

[Footnote: there’s a new trio album called ECV, with guitarist Roddy Elias, Copland and bassist Adrian Veddady that I’ve been hearing good things about. John Kelman reviewed it recently on allaboutjazz. Will report back after I live with it a while.]


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