MONTREAL â€” They are probably the two most influential record labels of the last 50 years â€” enterprises that, in their own way, radically changed the shape and tenor of jazz. ESP-Disk and ECM were born within a few years of each other, sharing few esthetics other than that the recordings they released broke from the trajectory of the music â€” hot jazz, swing, bebop, cool, and post-bop.
The labels each forged an unmistakable identity, based on their own conceptions of freedom â€” ESP was wild as a hurricane, ECM was as refined as a sculpture â€” so much so that critics claimed it wasnâ€™t jazz at all. Some claimed that ESP was just incoherent noise, that ECM was New Age parlour music. For the former, you had to sit straight up and listen; the latter could often be employed as background music, aural wallpaper.
Yet the fact remains that their rosters