Best jazz at the Big Ears Festival We head to the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville for the 50th anniversary of ECM Records. Hear three riveting performances by Carla Bley, Avishai Cohen and Nik Bärtsch's Ronin.

Carla Bley Trio Eli Johnson/Courtesy of Big Ears Festival hide caption

toggle caption
Eli Johnson/Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

Carla Bley Trio

Eli Johnson/Courtesy of Big Ears Festival

Jazz Night In America

ECM At Big Ears: A Boundless Label Meets A Broadminded FestivalWBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

ECM At Big Ears: A Boundless Label Meets A Broadminded Festival

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/725834524/726217347" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

At one point during the final stretch of this year's Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., you could have pried yourself away from a distortion-jacked Sun of Goldfinger show to join a clutch of fans hurrying over to see The Art Ensemble of Chicago. In making that calculation (a typical one, for Big Ears), you'd have been weighing two wildly different experiences with one notable thing in common: Both groups have an affiliation with the sonically adventurous label ECM Records.

ECM is observing its 50th anniversary this year and its largest celebration took place at Big Ears, where artists from its roster played some 20 concerts. Jazz Night in America's intrepid team caught about half of these — including a gorgeous solo bass recital by Larry Grenadier and a coolly mesmerizing dual-piano concert by Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer.

In this episode of our show, we bring you along to three of the very best performance we heard, each illuminating a different facet of ECM. We'll begin with composer, pianist and NEA Jazz Master Carla Bley, leading her chamber-like trio with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Next up is an agile post-bop quartet led by Israeli-born trumpeter Avishai Cohen. And we end by locking into the matrix of Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, whose leader is a Swiss pianist and composer specializing in what he calls "zen-funk."

Each of these compelling artists has insights on the broadminded legacy of ECM, and the meticulous vision of its founder, Manfred Eicher. We'll hear from them — and from the brain behind Big Ears, producer Ashley Capps, who says there has always been an ECM presence in Knoxville, if you just knew where to look.

Set List

  • "Utviklingssang" (Carla Bley)
  • "Sex with Birds" (Carla Bley)
  • "Life and Death" (Avishai Cohen)
  • "Will I Die Miss? Will I Die?" (Avishai Cohen)
  • "Module 46" (Nik Bärtsch)
  • "Module 36" (Nik Bärtsch)

Musicians

  • Carla Bley Trio: Carla Bley, piano; Steve Swallow, bass; Andy Sheppard, saxophone
  • Avishai Cohen Quartet: Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Barak Mori, bass; Fabian Almazan, piano
  • Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Nik Bärtsch, piano; Sha, bass/contrabass clarinet; Kaspar Rast, drums; Thomy Jordi, bass

Credits

Producers: Sarah Geledi and Nate Chinen; Production Assistant: Sarah Kerson; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Recording Engineer: Matt Honkonen; Mixed by David Tallacksen

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz Night In America

Mark Guiliana Justin Bettman/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Justin Bettman/Courtesy of the artist

The Artistic Duality Of Drummer Mark Guiliana

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Explore two sides of Mark Guiliana's creative brain, with two different sounding bands, from two hemispheres of the globe: The Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet from Amsterdam and Beat Music from Brooklyn.

Host Christian McBride and Saxophonist Lou Donaldson in Florida. Katie Simon/WBGO hide caption

toggle caption Katie Simon/WBGO

Good Gracious! Words Of Wisdom And Soulful Reflection From 'Sweet Papa' Lou Donaldson

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Host Christian McBride sits down with saxophonist Lou Donaldson to talk about Lou's life as a performer, his thoughts on jazz today and how hip-hop brought new ears to his music.

Good Gracious! Words Of Wisdom And Soulful Reflection From 'Sweet Papa' Lou Donaldson

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/733992956/734463789" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Turtle Island String Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Turtle Island Quartet Joins Cyrus Chestnut With Global Gospel Offering

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Watch Carry Me Home, a program from Turtle Island, the hardest working string quartet in jazz, and their latest collaborator, pianist Cyrus Chestnut.

Turtle Island Quartet Joins Cyrus Chestnut With Global Gospel Offering

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/729918599/730429366" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Joe Lovano. Craig Lovell/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Craig Lovell/Courtesy of the artist

Cleveland's Joe Lovano Comes Home

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Every December, saxophonist Joe Lovano travels home to Cleveland to throw himself a birthday concert. We hear tales of Lovano family lore, and a get a slice of his musical past and present.

Cleveland's Joe Lovano Comes Home

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/723488456/723984007" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Melanie Charles, Lakecia Benjamin and María Grand Weird Hours / Elizabeth Leitzell / Dimitri Louis/Courtesy of the artists hide caption

toggle caption Weird Hours / Elizabeth Leitzell / Dimitri Louis/Courtesy of the artists

Women To Watch: 3 Young Jazz Artists You Need To Know

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, tenor saxophonist María Grand and vocalist and flutist Melanie Charles each talk about their artistic process.

Women To Watch: 3 Young Jazz Artists You Need To Know

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/719109591/719711613" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Courtesy of the artist

No Man's Band: All-Female Jazz Orchestras Then and Now

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra celebrates 25 years, and one of the last surviving members of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm reflects on the legacies of all-female big bands.

No Man's Band: All-Female Jazz Orchestras Then and Now

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/702983940/703416638" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Carolina Sanchez/Red Bull Content Pool

Makaya McCraven: The Brain Behind The Mind-Bending Beats

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Drummer/producer Makaya McCraven creates beat-driven jazz with post-production wizardry.

Makaya McCraven: The Brain Behind The Mind-Bending Beats

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/698697855/698910268" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top