JazzTimes 10: Landmark ECM Albums

In honor of the label’s 50th anniversary, a celebration of 10 crucial releases

7. Bobo Stenson: Serenity (2000)
Pianist Bobo Stenson is the third in ECM’s triumvirate of Scandinavian ambassadors, alongside Rypdal and Garbarek, and Serenity might well be the most ECM recording that ECM ever put out. Seemingly effortlessly, Stenson and his longtime trio (bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Christensen) enmesh delicate melody with free improvisation and the techniques of 20th-century classical composers—some of whom, like Berg and Eisler, are actually represented on Serenity. There are few recordings of any kind like it anywhere in terms of that cohesive grouping of sounds. More than their omnivory, though, what is striking about the trio here is their empathy: Each one of them seems to be attuned, at frighteningly precise levels, to what the other musicians are thinking and feeling as they play, and all of them feel it together. Serenity is a long album, two discs and over 90 minutes of music. Every second of it is not only listenable, but a rabbit hole unto itself.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.