Re: Seoul was produced in limited numbers to accompany the 2013 exhibition “ECM – Think of your ears as eyes” in the South Korean capital. A historically rich selection distinguishes it from other compilations, as does its artistic associations. From the Gary Burton Quartet’sSeven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra (ECM 1040) are unearthed two tracks. “Three” epitomizes that album’s Mike Gibbs focus, serving as a limber vehicle for Steve Swallow’s bassing, while the darker strings of “Nocturne Vulgaire” transition into Swallow’s own “Arise, Her Eyes.” Together, they polish facets of a gem whose occlusions are unlike any other. Because Seven Songs had yet to be reissued on CD at this point, the hard-to-find Seoul disc was even more a treasure.
Even deeper textures await in the opening tracks of Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie’s Five Years Later (ECM 1207). The two guitarists, playing acoustic and electric instruments, respectively, stretch a blemish-less canvas while simultaneously painting it. With a flowing care more commonly associated with string players, they render every phrase in slow, circuitous motion. As if to unmask that metaphor, “Runes,” from Keith Jarrett’s Arbour Zena (ECM 1070), treats its orchestra like some ancient body of water, its surface so reflective that bassist Charlie Haden must walk around it to keep the scene intact, even as Jarrett runs his fingers across it.
Two standouts from the Sam Rivers album Contrasts (ECM 1162), at this point also on the cusp of a reissue, show the saxophonist and bandleader in top form. Both “Circles” and “Solace” represent the album’s freer side and give trombonist George Lewis plenty of room to roam over the rhythm section of bassist Dave Holland and drummer Thurman Barker. This is deeply considered music that erases every footprint it leaves behind. That same description carries over without a skip in the Miroslav Vitous Group’s self-titled album (ECM 1185), from which we are treated to yet another significant unearthing, this time of the bassist’s original “When Face Gets Pale.” Here John Surman unleashes a powerful baritone, while the saxophonist’s own “Sleeping Beauty” lays those tensions to rest. Rounded out by Kenny Kirkland on piano and Jon Christensen on drums, this is a spirited dyad of waking dreams.
Yeahwon Shin’s “Lullaby,” a logical selection from her ECM debut (ECM 2337) that pairs the Korean singer with pianist Aaron Parks in one of the tenderest improvisations in the label’s entire oeuvre, sits comfortably alongside Norma Winstone’s “A Breath Away.” The latter setting of a Ralph Towner tune, taken from Dance Without Answer (ECM 2333), brings us somewhat full circle, best expressing the Seoul exhibition’s subtitle, “Think of your ears as eyes,” for in that sentiment exists ECM’s deepest ethos, one as much inspired by moving imagery as by recorded sound.