Bill Frisell: The ECM Years
How Rambler might have sounded with Foster, we'll never know; but with Motian, Frisell had a built-in chemistry, and Rambler was ultimately even better received than In Line (ECM, 1983), with three compositions that would feature time and again in performance (and on record) for years to come: "When We Go," "Resistor" and, especially, the lyrical "Strange Meeting." That Frisell's reputation was on a rapid ascendancy, by this time, didn't stop the guitarist from appreciating the opportunities ECM provided, and how that label was changing the face of jazz. "The first ECMs I heard were Chick Corea's Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 (1970) and Vol. 2 (1972)," Frisell recalls. "There was an area at that time, this blank area, where this kind of music was happening, and it wasn't being put out or represented anywhere. And for them [ECM] to go into a neglected area and present it in such a high-class way from the very beginningtheir covers looked different, the vinyl looked thicker, and they were all consistently so good sound-wise ... that's not to say there wasn't good music around, but ECM went into this really uncharted area.
"ECM made the standard higher," Frisell continues. "Bob Hurwitz [now the head of Nonesuch] worked for ECM at the time, and has since done his own thing, but with ECM, there's a certain period where they really upped the standard, stayed consistent, and stayed with a real clear vision of what the music was to be. Anything that's good, it's gonna hold up. You go through different phases of fashion, but if you do it right and good and true, it's gonna do that. ECM did that."
It was at that time that Motian reduced his working quintet of Psalm to a trio that has, in the ensuing quarter century, reshaped the concept of interactive, spontaneous small ensembles by eliminating the bassa rare and daring move for an ensemble led by a drummer. Sure, there were bass-less ensembles, but not ones where there was another instrument to which it was normally so tightly tied. But with Motian's approach to the kit, turning more textural than temporal, it was no surprise, then, that the equally texture-minded Frisell was such a strong fit for the drummer. It was the formation of this trio that would, in its own way, reshape the direction of jazz and improvised music to come, even as it remained closely aligned with the tradition from which it emerged. "So, Paul started his trio with [myself and] Joe Lovano, and [we did] the album It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago (1985), and there was this period where things were going good," says Frisell.