What was it with ECM in the mid-'80s? It seems because they hit with Pat Metheny, a boatload of artist the labels roster cut first tracks that sounded exactly like Metheny tunes between 1984 and 1986 -- no matter what kind of music they made. They included Oregon, John Abercrombie, and Marc Johnson. Add Rainer Brüninghaus to the pile. The first track on Continuum, entitled "Strahlenspur," sounds like an outtake from the Pat Metheny group record, and this band doesn't even have a guitar player! OK, back to the task at hand. This trio made a few records together from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. All of them were similar to one another with the exception of mood. This one is meditative, inviting, full of rounded edges and melodies. It contains all the icy spaciousness of Manfred Eicher's trademark production, but the effect of Brüninghaus' compositions is warm, accessible even. They are open-ended and contemplative and explore musical questions lyrically. There is a valid argument to be made for the non-adventurousness of these works, and the fairly safe improvisations within them, but perhaps that's the point. The ECM acronym stands for Editions of Creative Musicians, and that's exactly what this record is. Brüninghaus doesn't have to prove his talent to anybody; he's played on enough great records to have established that. This then, is an edition of his creative expression. His compositions are linked to be one piece, and his sidemen, Markus Stockhausen and Fredy Studer, are remarkable improvisers and technicians. One of the other -- non-dubious -- standouts is "Stille," with its loping piano lines and Stockhausen's muted trumpet. "Innerfern" is also gorgeous for the way Brüninghaus layers his arpeggios to coincide with Studer's subtle brushwork on the cymbals. Together they create a mosaic of timbres for Stockhausen to sail above and through. Continuum is a pleasant record, in places even beautiful. Yet, one has to wonder if there wasn't a period in this label's history where otherwise creative musicians weren't taking it a little too easy with their ideas, thinking that ECM's stellar reputation and lineage might carry them through ideatic droughts. "Strahlenspur" is unforgivable, and the rest of the set, though creative, is still lazily made beautiful music.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek