Pat Metheny: Selected Recordings (:rarum 9)

Metheny

Pat Metheny
Selected Recordings
Release date: January 26, 2004

As the only artist granted two entries in ECM’s “Works” series of compilations, it was inevitable that guitarist Pat Metheny should also be invited to contribute to :rarum. Though confined to a single disc this time around, the results are no less cultivated in the heartlands. Neither is it any coincidence that it should begin with my own introduction to his work: Bright Size Life. His 1976 ECM leader debut with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses captured lightning in a bottle and made it audible as music. This joyous track is without equal and has not only stood the test of time but also set the standard for that test. Metheny and Pastorius were the ultimate conversers, and could take their dynamism from one level to the next in a single chord change.

Such dynamics were on fuller display in the activities of the Pat Metheny Group, whose classic ECM albums are ecumenically represented here. The quintessential “Phase Dance” from the PMG’s 1978 self-titled debut is so steeped in nostalgia that it feels like the first time, every time. Continuing chronologically through the laid-back “Airstream” (American Garage, 1979) and the invitational “Are You Going With Me?” (Travels, 1983), we touch down in the title track of 1984’s First Circle. Its locomotive charm, in combination with airy vocals from guitarist Pedro Aznar, make it the ultimate anthem of itineracy.

All of this breadth is due in no small part to the keyboard wizardry of Lyle Mays, with whom Metheny produced the inspired collaboration As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls in 1981. “It’s For You” finds the duo augmented by percussionist Nana Vasconcelos in a glorious groove. Metheny has always been a consummate solo artist as well, and the title track of 1979’s New Chautauqua is among his most emblematic for its connecting of synapses.

Rounding out this road trip are two relative outliers. Where “Every Day (I Thank You)” places his shimmering acoustic in the company of Mike Brecker on tenor, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Jack DeJohnette from a session—1980’s 80/81—that seems too often neglected in assessments of his work. “Lonely Woman” (Rejoicing, 1984), for its part, carries over Haden and swaps DeJohnette for Billy Higgins. The latter’s sundown loveliness ends this worthy introduction to one of the undisputed weavers on the six-string loom.

Bobo Stenson: Selected Recordings (:rarum 8)

Stenson

Bobo Stenson
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has one of the most endearing relationships to the keyboard one could ever imagine. Despite having carved a path distinct enough through the ECM catalog to warrant one masterful session after another under his own name, he has left behind a formative constellation of contributions as sideman, some of which are included in the present sequence. Each is significant in its own way. With trumpeter Don Cherry (Dona Nostra, 1994), he explored new realms of old material and old realms in new, riding the line between sadness and joy in Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Could I Give” and flowing ever forward in “Ahayu-Da.” As part of saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s band from the late 1980s into the next decade, he lent his more-than-comping abilities to 1993’s The Call alongside bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Billy Hart in quiet ecstasis, and unraveled the inner thoughts of “Little Peace” on 1995’s All My Relations. Yet nowhere was his presence so well integrated as in Tomasz Stanko’s band. The trumpeter’s original tune “Morning Heavy Song” (Leosia, 1997) is just one of many magical exchanges to which he contributed shaded interpretations.

Stenson and Jormin were attached at the hip in every session they shared, so it was only natural they should remain together when Stenson formed his own trio, closing the triangle with drummer Jon Christensen. There are plenty of moments to cherish here, starting with an explosive take on “Untitled” (another Coleman tune) from 1971’s Underwear. More somber waystations await the curious traveler in Duke Ellington’s “Reflections In D” (Reflections, 1996) and “Oleo De Mujer Con Sombrero” (War Orphans, 1998) by Silvio Rodriguez. Both are standouts in Stenson’s recorded history and feel like music you’d hear in a dream yet still remember after waking. In the tactility of the latter tune especially, Stenson achieves what he does best: describing a vast scene with minimal gestures. Even deeper mastery awaits behind the doors of 2000’s Serenity, which explains the goldmine of material chosen from it here. The first, “East Print,” is an audible inverse equation by Christensen, who plays as if his drums were feet. The others, “Fader V (Father World)” and “Golden Rain,” are Stenson originals in which bass and drums take off their masks to flesh out the composer’s skeletal philosophies. They are also among his most atmospherically authentic creations, reminding us that inner lives should never be forgotten in favor of façades.

Neither can we forget the relatively combustible era of Stenson’s quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and Christensen at the kit. And while both “Svevende” (Dansere, 1976) and the title track of 1974’s Witchi-Tai-To are Garbarek-heavy tunes, Stenson’s sporadic details lend them a charm unbound to a single name. His runs and accentuating clusters are the currents beneath Garbarek’s screeching flights of improvisation, bold and free of artifice.

Though Stenson’s selected recordings mark the eighth of twenty nominal volumes in the :rarumseries, given that the first two were double-disc affairs, we now find ourselves at the midway point in terms of CD count. And so, you can also find Volumes I-VIII available as a boxed set, released in 2002. However you find it packaged, don’t let this one slip under your radar, as it is among the label’s essential compilations.

Rarum I-VIII

Terje Rypdal: Selected Recordings (:rarum 7)

Rypdal

Terje Rypdal
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

Among the cadre of guitarists gathered beneath ECM’s umbrella, Terje Rypdal stands as a pioneer of Nordic hybridism. His cross-pollination of rock, jazz, and classical influences continues to inspire listeners all these decades later, and a collection like this offers blinks of an eye’s worth of insight into the full scope of his craftsmanship. Having said that, I can lead you through this sequence in confidence that Rypdal himself has chosen for us a worthy discographic pilgrimage.

Of the trifecta referenced above, the most thoroughly represented persona is that of art rocker. Wielding his guitar like an ax in both the proverbial and literal sense, he rightly divides sonic truth from fluff across a spectrum of classic albums. From the representative 14-minute “Silver Bird Is Heading For The Sun” (Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away, 1974), in lockstep with drummer Jon Christensen over Mellotron strings, to the aphoristic “The Curse” (Blue, 1987), with bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr and drummer Audun Kleive, Rypdal takes fearless melodic risks, compressing shadows into a prism through which to shine the distorted light of his guitar. Said guitar sings in “Transition” (Chaser, 1985) and distorts in “Tough Enough” (from his 1971 self-titled debut), but always in a way that listens before it speaks.

On the jazzier side of things, we find him guiding a band of melodic travelers in “Waves” (from the 1978 album of the same name) and forensically examining the horn-laced groove of “Over Birkerot” (Odyssey, 1975) as if his life depended on it. His sweet spot, however, lies somewhere between those two coasts, and reaches its apex in “The Return Of Per Ulv” (If Mountains Could Sing, 1995). More than my all-time favorite Rypdal track, it’s also a giant leap of intuition for ECM’s shaping of his sound. Rypdal is unabashedly lyrical and Kjellemyr’s bass pliant yet unbreakably supportive in a tightrope walk between grunge and beauty. Other liminal spaces to be noted are the cowboy’s funereal dream that is “Mystery Man” (The Singles Collection, 1989) and “Ørnen” (another from Chaser), which stokes Bill Frisell-esque flame with a distinctly Rypdalian kindling.

We encounter Rypdal the bona fide composer via the second movement of his Double Concerto, which was paired with his 5th Symphony on a wonderful 2000 release. Strings and harpsichord add a finely woven carpet beneath Rypdal’s guitar, building to urgency before flowing back into a comfortable baseline.

Like a saddle that must be ridden many times before it is broken in and which molds itself to rider and horse alike, Rypdal’s guitar has been well-traveled and handled to the point of serving as an extension of his body and soul. Only time can know where each ride will take us and how long we will need to get there.

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Selected Recordings (:rarum 6)

AEOC

Art Ensemble of Chicago
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

The Art Ensemble of Chicago embodied a world unto itself filled with self-generating ideas, allusions to (if not also illusions of) popular culture, and a whimsy so poetic as to be divinely serious. Their traversal through ECM was sporadic yet legendary, consistent in quality yet varied in execution, intimate yet vastly extroverted. Such dichotomies, however, existed only to be exploded, so that by the time listeners came out the other end of an album’s tunnel, they did so as new creatures. The earliest excursion sampled here is 1979’s Nice Guys, of which “Folkus” combines winged debates, traffic jams, and post-sunset imagery in a twinkling blender of inspiration. The title track is an equally eclectic mix, a mission statement that simultaneously bows to and upends tradition.

Both “Prayer For Jimbo Kwesi” (The Third Decade, 1984) and “Odwalla / Theme” (Urban Bushmen, 1982) show the AOEC’s tendency to finish far from where it began, rendering at one moment an Irish jig and just as resolutely the next a downtown swing. Yet the deepest dives are to be found in Full Force. The 1980 masterpiece gives us “Magg Zelma,” a 20-minute epic that is a set unto itself. From its initial atomic stirrings to the full-blown galaxy it becomes, it’s a downright cosmic act. Everything from childhood lullabies to the dreams they continue to inspire in adulthood is articulated through the bassing of Malachi Favors Maghostus, the drumming of Famoudou Don Moye, and the Reeds of Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. Add to that molten core the volcanic eruptions of trumpeter Lester Bowie in “Charlie M,” and you have a formula for profound disruption. Here, as often in their work, these mind-melded artists use humor as a means of understanding sonic production and the languages required to build it from phonemes to something with coherence and meaning beyond its utterance.

As it happens, “Charlie M” appeared on Lester Bowie’s “Works” compilation from 1988. Also included there was The Great Pretender, from which “Rios Negroes” is served up here like a confection. The montuno piano of Donald Smith sets up a groove with bassist Fred Williams—fantastically deep, deceptively simple. Bowie’s trumpeting is a sound of force but also kindness. Mitchell’s Nine To Get Ready is another viable satellite. That 1999 leader date’s title track is a brilliant conference of reeds, horns, piano, bass, and drums that elicits revelry of a higher order. Mitchell’s breathless playing is echoed by the ensemble and punctures the lid above with countless stars.

This collection, however, offers only a bird’s-eye view of a collective history. Better to immerse yourself in the fullness of the boxed set from 2018. Once you enter it, you’ll never want to leave.

Bill Frisell: Selected Recordings (:rarum 5)

Frisell

Bill Frisell
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

Bill Frisell is one of a few musicians who came into prominence under Manfred Eicher’s purview yet has since gone on to spread his wings over landscapes of other labels. On ECM, however, he produced a body of work that was entirely uncommon, and embodies the :rarum title as much as any artist featured in its roster of compilations. His self-selection of music is as insightful as it is dreamily alive. Such a description could apply across the board, but perhaps nowhere so organically as in his work with drummer Paul Motian. On “Mandeville,” for instance, a cornerstone of 1982’s Psalm, his backwoods charm—cultivated as if in the marshlands of a distant childhood—carries that same fluid charge of Motian’s free associations, as also in the dark river currents of “Introduction” and “India” from 1985’s it should’ve happened a long time ago. The latter’s inclusion of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano shows just how wide a vista a trio can paint. Other key collaborations include “Singsong” (Wayfarer, 1983) with the Jan Garbarek Group, in which he and the saxophonist intertwine as birds who no longer need to hunt because they are fed by each other’s song, “Kind Of Gentle” with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler in 1997’s Angel Song (one of my all-time favorite ECMs), and “Closer” (Fragments, 1986) with pianist Paul Bley. In these, his guitar sings of the past in the language of the present.

Frisell’s albums as leader find him at his most distilled and hard-won. In this respect, he offers digests of three watershed sessions: 1988’s Lookout For Hope, 1985’s Rambler, and 1983’s solo In Line. The first contains such tender flavor profiles as “Alien Prints” and “Lonesome” and boasts the umami of cellist Hank Roberts. The second shows a grungier side of Frisell in such tracks as “Resistor” and “Tone.” In the third, we envision the surreal beauties of the title track. And while In Line also contains one of his gems, “Throughout,” we find it here not in its original form but as arranged by composer Gavin Bryars, who transformed it into the transcendent chamber piece Sub Rosa on 1994’s Vita Nova. In stretching Frisell’s sense of time to fill an era, offsetting regularity with slightly askew phrases, unexpected turns, and breath-stilling highs, Bryars-via-Frisell proves ECM to be its own ecosystem, filled with carefully planted hybrids thriving in crowning harmony.

Gary Burton: Selected Recordings (:rarum 4)

Burton

Gary Burton
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

In light of Chick Corea’s selected recordings, which included his classic duets with Gary Burton, the logic of association brings the latter into the spotlight in this fourth installment of ECM’s :rarum series. The vibraphonist’s career spanned a gamut of watershed moments in the 1970s and 80s, starting with The New Quartet of 1973. This evocative band with guitarist Mick Goodrick, bassist Abraham Laboriel, and drummer Harry Blazer renders Michael Gibbs’s “Four Or Less” as if it were an etude for the waking mind. Burton’s sound, here and throughout the compilation, is a force of connection—not only between the notes he is creating but also between the musicians at his side. A year later, Ring brought together his quintet with Eberhard Weber, interpreting the bassist’s own “The Colours Of Chloë” through the artistry of then-newcomer guitarist Pat Metheny, whose own “B & G (Midwestern Nights Dream)” graced the set list of the 1977 follow-up, Passengers.

In 1976, the quintet proper dealt a royal flush with its all-Carla Bley session Dreams So Real, of which the montage of “Ictus / Syndrome / Wrong Key Donkey” showcases Metheny’s electric 12-string and the bassing of Steve Swallow around Burton’s fiery expositions. Burton’s revamped quintet, now with Tommy Smith on tenor saxophone, drummer Martin Richards, and pianist Makoto Ozone, gives us Ozone’s “La Divetta” as heard on 1987’s Whiz Kids. Creating an atmosphere just humid enough to keep us feeling refreshed without being overwhelmed, Ozone shines in the ECM engineering foreground.

The Gary Burton Quartet fills in the remaining gaps of this collection. Between the late-night altoism of Jim Odgren in “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love” (Charles Mingus) from 1982’s Picture This and the marimba-licious tropicalism of “Ladies In Mercedes” (Steve Swallow) from 1985’s Real Life Hits, Burton’s colors are those of rain-slicked streets: blurred yet unmistakable in what they reflect.

Chick Corea: Selected Recordings (:rarum 3)

Corea

Chick Corea
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

Following Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek’s own selected recordings, both of which were two-disc epics, pianist Chick Corea is represented via the third :rarum release in a single CD packed to the gills with material. The projects, and tracks culled from them, should be no surprise to even the fair-weather Corea listener. The 1972 classic Return To Forever is effortlessly represented by two songs. “Sometime Ago” introduces one of the most iconic bands in the ECM spectrum, with Corea on electric piano, Joe Farrell on flute, Flora Purim on vocals, Stanley Clarke on bass, and Airto Moreira on drums. Purim’s voice is a charm in and of itself, and Farrell’s flute sunshine incarnate. “La Fiesta” opens the door to another realm of infinite daylight, and comprises as brilliant an introduction as one could hope to find for Corea’s quasi-mystical warmth.

The obvious next step is 1973’s Crystal Silence, for which he joined forces with vibraphonist Gary Burton. Whether reading each other’s minds in “Desert Air” or unpacking deeper wisdom from the RTF staple “What Game Shall We Play Today,” they are like two halves of a deck perfectly riffle-shuffled together. But for me their 1980 live album In Concert, Zürich holds up to our ears the clearest lens into their rapport. In “Tweak,” for instance, their sound is even more expansive than in the studio, and in “Mirror, Mirror” they treat virtuosity not as a means of showing off but as a confirmation of life itself.

For an even deeper mind meld, one need only dive into 1982’s Trio Music. Alongside bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes, Corea committed some of my favorite music by him to record. Though I thoroughly enjoy this studio session, including the wonderful collective improvisations, and ranging from the lyrical embrace of “Eronel” to the controlled fire of “Rhythm-A-Ning,” it’s in 1986’s Trio Music, Live In Europe (one of my all-time favorites of the entire ECM catalog) that his highest potential is reached. “I Hear A Rhapsody” stops and starts with ease, then ushers in the rhythm section with delight into a bright and open dynamic surpassed perhaps only by Keith Jarrett’s perennial trio. “Summer Night / Night And Day” is another riff on circadian rhythms and finds Corea activating Haynes (or is it the other way around?) as night renders stars visible. In this context, Corea was capable of eliciting vibrational truths, leaping temporarily beyond the grasp of Earth’s gravity. Such was his genius during this golden age to take small elements and draw connections between them that others would either miss or never even consider possible.

Jan Garbarek: Selected Recordings (:rarum 2)

Garbarek

Jan Garbarek
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

After the broad yet intimate selected recordings of Keith Jarrett, it’s only natural that the :rarum series should follow up with another two-disc album from another of its biggest talents: Jan Garbarek. The Norwegian saxophonist and composer has left his fingerprints on many an object in the ECM curio cabinet, and in so doing has gifted listeners with countless hours of creative engagement, ideas, and memories. Indeed, perhaps more than those of most artists on the label, his albums are easily connected to times, places, and experiences for nearly everyone who has followed his career.

One thing that distinguishes this compilation from those that follow it is the abundance of title tracks, as if each were sigil of the past. From the anthemic enmeshments with Keith Jarrett on 1974’s Belonging and 1978’s My Song to his interdisciplinary collaborations with Shankar (Song For Everyone, 1985), Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (Ragas and Sagas, 1992), and Anouar Brahem (Madar, 1994), his saxophone is a cleansing harmonizer. Dominant but never dominating, its echoes carry every message as if it were the last. Like a strip of cloth washed in a river and wrung out to dry in the sun, it changes color in the evaporation process. Other noteworthy titles abound. Personal favorites include 1985’s It’s OK to listen to the gray voice, a timeless theme rendered by David Torn on guitar synthesizer, Eberhard Weber on bass, and Michael DiPasqua on drums that keeps us earthbound by the gentlest of gravities; 1992’s Twelve Moons, in which drummer Manu Katché and percussionist Marilyn Mazur add fire and attunement to one of his most mature melodies; and 1989’s Rosensfole, which elevates his arrangements of folk songs sung by Agnes Buen Garnås. It’s an album so brilliant and relatively neglected in the Garbarek catalog that I almost wish there was more of it here to entice newcomers to its wonders. Seek it out if you haven’t already.

Then again, any Garbarek admirer will know he has always been adept at creating traditions from scratch. Whether weaving himself into the rainforest with guitarist Egberto Gismonti and bassist Charlie Haden in “Cego Aderaldo” (Folk Songs, 1981) or rendering aching parabolas of honest reflection with organist Kjell Johnsen in “Iskirken” (Aftenland, 1980), or even riding the wave of windharp with Ralph Towner on 12-string guitar in “Viddene” (Dis, 1977), his music comes to us fully formed and preloaded with histories of their own. That thread of ancient purpose is woven through “Lillekort” (Eventyr, 1981), a track combining the signatures of percussionist Nana Vaconcelos and guitarist John Abercrombie on mandoguitar, and a turning point in the engineering of Garbarek’s sound. It continues on in “The Path” (Paths, Prints, 1982), a balancing act of sun and shade shared with guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Eberhard Weber, and drummer Jon Christensen, as well as “Its Name Is Secret Road” and “Aichuri, The Song Man,” both solo excursions documented on 1988’s Legend Of The Seven Dreams. Said thread reaches something of a terminus in Part 1 of the floating “Molde Canticle,” from 1990’s I Took Up The Runes.

This collection offers even more joys for veterans and newcomers alike, such the classical piece “Windsong” (Luminessence, 1975), written by Keith Jarrett and performed with the Stuttgart Südfunk Symphony Orchestra, and the iconic cries of “Skrik & Hyl” (Dansere, 1976), with pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. There’s even a haunting nod to 1991’s StAR with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Peter Erskine.

But the two most important touchstones of my own Garbarek discovery are also to be found in these borders. First is “Parce Mihi Domine” (Officium, 1994). This profound collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble was my introduction to Garbarek at a time when I was only immersed in ECM’s New Series classical releases, and which compelled me to purchase one of Garbarek’s own albums, Visible World, thus opening the doors to ECM proper. The beginning of that 1996 masterpiece, “Red Wind,” has always been a special one for that reason alone. With barest means—Garbarek on synths and soprano and Mazur on percussion—it meshes beautiful details and unfettered expression and stands as a testament to a relationship between musician and producer that will never be equaled in the hall of mirrors that is our audible universe.

Keith Jarrett: Selected Recordings (:rarum 1)

Jarrett

Keith Jarrett
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

Between 2002 and 2004, and following its “Works” series in the mid 1980s, ECM Records produced twenty “Selected Recordings” compilations under the overarching title of :rarum. A fitting word (Latin for “rarity”) to designate the uniqueness of ECM’s output, scope, and vision. In addition to their archival significance and 24-bit remastering, these releases are special for being curated by the artists themselves. The first two—this one dedicated to Keith Jarrett and the next to Jan Garbarek—are double-disc lenses of insight into what these perennial figures deem important in their own creative lives. The relatively longer format allows for multiple pieces to be chosen from the same album, so that sequences within sequences are given room to breathe, grow, and invite fresh interpretations from the listener.

Jarrett’s self-regard may or may not match your own chosen path through his discography, but once immersed in his clavichord improvisations (1987’s Book Of Ways), it’s difficult to imagine a more personal way to begin. Unfolding in a style that is at once Baroque and postmodern, sounding as they do like the lute of a mute troubadour, these pieces come to us with an apparent sense of age and rustic simplicity. The recording regards these wonders in the moments of their creation—not so much traveling back in time as pulling the past forward to be with us in the present. Other unaccompanied endeavors are faithfully represented here. Worthy of note are his detailed exploration of the piano’s innards on “Munich, Part IV” (Concerts, 1982); the haunting, open-throated supernovas of his organ improvisation, “Hymn Of Remembrance” (Hymns/Spheres, 1976); and his quiet build from stillness to melodic monument in “Recitative” (Dark Intervals, 1988). The latter album is perhaps among his most overlooked masterstrokes and further yields the anthemic gem of “Americana.”

Even deeper self-examinations await in his soprano saxophone playing, artfully represented in two tracks from 1981’s Invocations/The Moth and the Flame, and in his multi-instrumental Spirits from 1986, on which he emotes through an array of winds and percussion besides. Thus reduced to five selections (numbers 16, 20, 2, 13, and 25, for those keeping score), the full brunt of that divisive album’s 26 is made more palatable and clarifies just how much terrain he could cover when left to his own devices.

With the exception of the solo concerts, Jarrett’s finest pianism was always to be found with two legendary bands. The first was his so-called European Quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen, of whose phenomenal run is offered a broad cross-section. From the unabashed confidence of “’Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” (Belonging, 1974) and the lyrical integrations of “My Song” (from the 1978 album of the same name) all the way to the sharp-edged blues of “Late Night Willie” (Personal Mountains, 1989), the promise of homecoming is never far. In addition to sporting one of the few rhythm sections substantial enough to sustain Jarrett’s high metabolism, the quartet also found an ideal harmonic partner for him in Garbarek.

And then, of course, there is the “Standards Trio” with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. More than a band (and, by that measure, more than a standards machine), it was a world unto itself where timeless tunes and spontaneous miracles danced as equals. The title track of 1991’s The Cure is as much atmospherically as it is technically unchained, while 1995’s At The Blue Note shows a tessellated rapport in “Bop-Be” and “No Lonely Nights.”

At the risk of belaboring a simile I’ve used before, Jarrett’s oeuvre is like a globe that one could spin and land a finger on anywhere to plot a path of genius. In this collection, we find as intimate an itinerary as one could chart through the experiences of an artist without equal, not even to himself.