John Surman saxophones, clarinets
Anders Jormin double bass
Bobo Stenson piano
Dino Saluzzi bandoneón
Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Michelle Makarski violin
Jon Christensen drums
Andreas Reiner violin
Simon Fordham violin
Helmut Nicolai viola
Anja Lechner cello
Filmed at Hotel Römerbad, Badenweiler, May 16-18, 1997
Edited by Pierre-Yves Borgeaud and Cyrille Nakache
Post-production: ARRI Studios, Munich
Executive producer: Fredrik Gunnarsson
Continuing in my coverage of ECM rarities, I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy of an obscure VHS tape documenting the 1997 Römerbad-Musiktage, where an eclectic group of ECM musicians gathered to perform as part of this annual musical event. The clamshell case insert provides the following description:
The Römerbad-Musiktage has been an important event in the contemporary music calendar since 1973, when impresario Klaus Lauer first began to present concerts in the Kuppelsaal of the hotel he owns in the South German resort town of Badenweiler. Although a wide range of music has been presented at the Hotel Römderbad, the emphasis has been on modern composition, and a close working relationship has been established with composers including Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, György Kurtág, György Ligeti and Wolfgang Rihm. In 1993, Lauer and music producer Manfred Eicher instigated another annual series, with performances by improvisors and interpreters associated with the ECM label. More than a mere festival, the Badenweiler meeting allows an informed public to witness ECM recording artists in the process of shared musical discovery. Spontaneity is the watchword as the musicians play together, in both proven and untested combinations. “The ECM Whitsun Concert Series at the Römerbad have become an enduring artistic experience,” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau of the 1997 event. “The aesthetics of Eicher’s equally stringent and open agenda has acquired international renown. Listeners from 16 countries had the opportunity to enrich and modify their musical worldview and to perceive things unavailable at conventional music events.”
Sadly enough, the 50-minute video is not a document of the performances themselves. What we do get, however, is an intimate glimpse into ECM’s “behind-the-scenes” presence in the world of live music as Eicher brings together musicians that have rarely (if ever) shared a stage to create something as enduring in the minds of listeners as it is spontaneous in its coalescence. Filmmaker and friend of the label Pierre-Yves Borgeaud, along with coeditor Cyril Nakache, go to great lengths to clue us in not only on the logistics of putting together such an event but also on the everyday imperfections that must be ironed out to pull it off with elegance.
The split curtain that introduces us to the concert space, backgrounded by the unmistakable sound of John Surman’s bass clarinet, offers a sliver of orientation before we see the reed virtuoso in the flesh, along with bassist Anders Jormin, engaging in a measured dance as shots of the hotel’s interior and attentive staff are revealed in leisurely succession.
What follows is a series of rehearsal footage as Eicher molds the air with his hands, visually imagining what he hopes will take place when the room is populated with seasoned ears. Surman talks afterward about how easy it is to play with musicians who listen so deeply to each other before melodizing on soprano saxophone with Bobo Stenson and Jon Christensen joining on piano and drums, respectively.
The film moves on to Dino Saluzzi, who fills the room with the resonance of his bandoneón as the other musicians decide on their configurations with Eicher’s input. They then augment Saluzzi with Jormin and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Violinist Michelle Makarski is also interviewed, expressing her love of improvisation despite her classical training and her gratitude for being among these jazz greats. She recalls being asked to perform the works of Keith Jarrett in New York City, which caught the attention of Eicher and resulted in the 1994 album Bridge Of Light, followed by her solo album Caoine one month before this film was made. Her sound meshes soulfully with Saluzzi and Stanko, the latter of whom talks about the beauty of the space, the dry acoustics of which allow for the cultivation of a fuller sound among such artfully curated musicians.
Saluzzi is the focal point of the most alluring ensembles, especially when he combines his sound with that of the phenomenal Rosamunde Quartett. Anchored by the robust cello of Anja Lechner, the strings pair wonderfully with Saluzzi’s generous spirit. In the interview that follows, he talks about pitching this formal music crossover as a blurring of divisions toward social harmony. His tangos uphold that ethos with utmost love, imprinting the film’s final moments with a message for all.