The Latest from Guitarist Dominic Miller Maintains the Quality Control of Mercurial Label ECM Records

Dominic Miller press photo
Guitarist Dominic Miller's latest is indicative of the ECM Records' approach, appeal and sound | Steven Haberland, courtesy of the artist (cropped)

ECM Records remains an object lesson in autonomy, tenacity and true independence. 

Co-founded by bassist-producer Manfred Eicher in 1969 to highlight the then-under-looked European jazz scene, ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) has gone onto release more than 1700 albums. The now-80-year-old Eicher has overseen every release, and the label’s cover designs are as consistent as Eicher’s ethereal-meets-high-fidelity production approach. To name only two, jazz artists including Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny helped define their own career arcs as well as the ECM ethic. Over the years, ECM has introduced music listeners to what was once known as “world music,” a kind of all-encompassing (if not awkward) term for indigenous music that slipped through the accepted genres, as well as experimental and contemporary classical works. 

Guitarist Dominic Miller is indicative of the label’s approach, appeal and sound. The Argentinian-born Miller is best known for his three-decades tenure as the main guitarist for Sting. Yet Miller’s discography is varied and hard to track: since the ‘80s, as a side player he’s worked with pop and jazz artists including Tina Turner, Level 42, Phil Collins, as well as alt-country artist Kim Richey and UK rockers King Swamp. Miller also boasts more than a dozen releases as a composer-band leader. 

Clandestin,” taken from Miller’s third and latest ECM release Vagabond, splits and then fuses the differences between flamenco, third-stream composition, and the kind of overall vast openness that denotes (or to some ears, possibly codifies and even confines) the “ECM sound.” 

Opening with Miller’s measured picking on nylon-string acoustic guitar, pianist Jacob Karlzon gradually flicks a few wandering arpeggios over Miller’s motif. As Miller and Karlzon wander together through the performance, electric bassist Nicolas Fiszman and drummer Ziv Ravitz join them with a minimal syncopated widening of the song’s rhythm. The performance builds and dismantles into four commentaries that find their respective voices, free of disagreement. A quick overdub of Miller playing processed-electric guitar jabs into “Clandestin” and just as quickly fades back into the song’s scenery. The song resolves as it began, with a kind of group farewell that dissolves into nothingness. 

It would be dismissive to say that any ECM release offers the same sound, since label-head Eicher’s tastes aren’t rigid and the catalog is a challenging invitation to take chances in exploring a half-century of innovative music. The site is currently promoting albums and tours by saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield and the Danish String Quartet; three distinct entities of musical ideas that ECM Records brings together somehow with Eicher’s personal aesthetic and logic. In total, Dominic Miller’s “Clandestin” is a good starting point for the curious while satisfying expectations and is a worthy edition to ECM Records’ immense and nebulous realm.

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