David Darling
(ECM, 1992)

When it comes to ECM Records, we’re more familiar with the iconic album covers of label founder Manfred Eicher than the many contemporary pieces he’s released since 1969. Or as New York Times writer Dana Jennings put it in a story about the Haus der Kunst exhibition ECM: A Cultural Archeology….

Most ECM covers these days are moody and elemental photographs that tack toward the abstract: melancholy Bergmanesque cityscapes and landscapes swaddled in fog, waterscapes and skyscapes. They’re dreamscapes, really, all blur and chiaroscuro, layered onto albums with titles like ‘Canticle of the Sun’, ‘Canto Oscuro’ and ‘Dream Logic’. It’s as if they loosely illustrate some neo-noir that only Mr. Eicher senses.

Hinting at an answer, if not an aesthetic, he said: ‘I really like the light in the north, and I’m a fan of Bergman. It reflects my atmospheric, poetic side.’

Cello is a prime example of this painterly approach and the blue moon bent of cellist David Darling. A Grammy winner with an innate grasp of mood-altering instrumental music, the Indiana native is at the peak of his improvisational powers throughout this lushly arranged LP.

Saying more than words ever could with nothing but a deftly struck bow, Darling casts the pale moonlight of the album’s cover art — a subtle Jean-Luc Godard nod — straight across our speakers, leaving its notes hanging in the air like abstract shadows. Many of these tracks actually ended up in Godard’s movies, but you won’t need to watch ’em to get the full picture. Darling’s work speaks for itself, as loudly as a long goodbye on the last night of the year.