Release date: January 26, 2004
It is through a lingering veil of mourning that I regard this final :rarum compilation, bearing dedication to Jon Christensen. As of this writing, the seemingly omnipresent Norwegian drummer, backbone of more ECM sessions than I can count, passed away only three months ago. Thankfully, he left a literal lifetime’s worth of material to revisit, some of the best of which is included here. Once again, we are immersed in the era-defining sound of 1975’s Solstice. Having heard its opening “Oceanus” on preceding compilations, encouraged to focus on guitarist Ralph Towner and saxophonist Jan Garbarek, we are now reminded of how much of its expansiveness was due to Christensen’s drumming. From that same album we are also treated to “Piscean Dance,” a funkier duet with Towner on 12-string that showcases his ability to set and maintain a tone.
And what a tone he sets in “Glacial Reconstruction” from 1993’s Water Stories. Beneath pianist Ketil Bjørnstad, guitarist Terje Rypdal, and bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr he splashes with childlike wonder. And in Rypdal’s “Per Ulv” (Waves, 1978) he renders an unnecessary drum computer obsolete by the fullness of his groove. Even fuller are his contributions to pianist Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet, of which three exemplars are offered. The title tracks of 1989’s Personal Mountains and 1978’s My Song bear especial testament to his depth of color and evocation. His cymbals are themselves instruments of revelry and never let go until the music stops. From lyrical float to gravitational romp, as in “The Windup” (Belonging, 1974), his pacing is unforcedly appropriate.
Christensen was also a master of detailing, as evidenced in the quieter turns of “Tutte” from bassist Arild Andersen’s 1986 Bande À Part, as well as Bobo Stenson’s 1998 War Orphans, of which the title tune by Ornette Coleman turns his delicate restlessness into a language with its own grammar, syntax, and idioms. A language that only he could speak and which others may only hope to translate with fidelity.
As this is the final stop on the :rarum journey, you may also find it as part of a boxed set containing Volumes IX-XX, released in 2004. And while I do have my top picks from the series (this one included), it’s worth having all of them if you’re relatively new to ECM. Each is its own portal into the living and the dead, and a reminder that neither state of being means anything without the infinity between our ears to give meaning.