The halfway point in ECM's excellent 20-volume Rarum series is by one of its signature talents: bassist, composer, and bandleader Dave Holland. These documents are, essentially, career retrospectives wherein the artist chooses from his performances on the label, either as a leader, soloist, or sideman. Holland offers a fantastic cross section from his own catalog, with one exception. That selection is the album's opener, "How's Never" from Homecoming, the second album by Gateway, a trio Holland was involved in with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Most of the rest come from his celebrated 1980s and 1990s recordings with then-young luminaries such as Steve Coleman, Chris Potter, Smitty Smith, Kevin and Robin Eubanks, and ECM veterans such as Kenny Wheeler, Julian Priester, and Steve Wilson.
Egberto Gismonti's volume in the excellent ECM Rarum series contains material from seven of his ten albums for the label as a leader, none from the 124 recordings on his own label distributed by ECM. It hardly matters. Gismonti is the most enigmatic and mercurial of the artists on the roster. Being from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he has made a life of delving deep into his country's magical musical framework that draws into itself and expands upon the many cultures that have intersected with it from Africa, Europe, and the United States. The music contained here finds Gismonti, ever the shamanistic gadfly conjurer, singing and playing no less than eight instruments, from percussion to guitars to flutes.
This collection contains samples from almost all of my life’s musical efforts, starting with recent albums and going back, with a few selections from ECM releases of my work by other artists, to the early sixties.” This is the :rarum disc that reaches the furthest into history as Carla’s “Ictus” is played by Jimmy Giuffre’s 1961 trio: this was music that laid the groundwork for the “chamber jazz” ECM would later explore more extensively. There is music with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and with the Liberation Music Orchestra, and with Carla’s large and small ensembles as documented on WATT, and no shortage of star soloists…
Alone among the first eight albums of the ECM Rarum series, the Art Ensemble of Chicago edition is a group effort, with surviving members Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye offering only a brief greeting in the booklet. There were only four Art Ensemble of Chicago albums over only a half-dozen years (1978-1984), so listeners get two tracks from the initial offering, "Nice Guys" and "Full Force," and one apiece from Urban Bushmen and The Third Decade.
The Eberhard Weber volume in the ECM :Rarum series is another one of those revelatory spotlights on a player and composer whose entire identity has been shaped by his association with the label. The revelation is that Weber's bass playing and rainbow sense of harmonic interplay has in turn been perhaps more integral to shaping the sound and identity of the label. This collection of ten tracks showcases Weber's contributions as the leader of his fine, longstanding band Colours, his solo projects, and his contributions to the recordings of Gary Burton, Pat Metheny (who could forget his elegant, expressionistic bass playing on Watercolors, Metheny's sophomore ECM effort?), Ralph Towner, and Jan Garbarek.
Master drummer, composer, and bandleader Paul Motian's volume in ECM's fine Rarum series is a tough one to reconcile. It's not that it is in any way disappointing – far from it. It's more a case of what to choose and how an artist's choices are made when there is so much material to choose from. Motian has played as a sideman and as a leader for the label since he was first approached by Manfred Eicher in 1972. The nine tunes here range from that year's Conception Vessel, his debut album as a leader with Keith Jarrett, to a 1985 Paul Bley Quartet date on which he guested along with Bill Frisell and John Surman. While Motian did appear on the ECM label during the 1990s, none of that material was chosen. The 13 years that are reflected here are rich in not only musical diversity but cultural acumen.
Bassist Arild Andersen may not be one of ECM's best-known bandleaders (to Americans, that is), but that hasn't stopped him from amassing an impressive catalog as one of the label's senior statesmen. Andersen himself comments in the liner notes at how fortunate and surprised he was when looking back over his catalog and realizing how many younger players graced his sides. The evidence, however, is that Andersen is too humble: his guidance is like a beacon in bringing the best out of many who would become leaders in their own right. A fine example is on "Vanilje," which opens the album and comes from the Masqualero album. Here Andersen, Jon Balke, and drummer Jon Christensen host two stunning players on the front line, young saxophonist Tore Brunborg and a fresh-faced Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet.
Polish composer and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's career has been long and varied – from working with the legendary Krzysztof Komeda in the 1950s and '60s, to his own work that ranges form hard bop to electronic improvisation. A wonderful illustration of that principle is his association with Manfred Eicher's ECM label. This volume, in the excellent Rarum series, begins with Stanko's first date as a leader for ECM in 1975 on the album Balladyna. There are two selections from the set highlighting what was well-known at the time as his radical "predatory lyricism" method of composition and soloing.
“My time with ECM is a lifetime by now,” Terje Rypdal notes, as he embarks upon his fourth decade with the label that has documented his far-reaching achievements as both improviser and composer. For this anthology, Rypdal chose to focus on his groundbreaking electric guitar artistry, heard in settings ranging from symphony orchestra to the enlightened hard rock of the Chasers. “Music must have colours and freedom”, Rypdal once said, and his selection here lacks neither.
In the winter of 2012/13, the Haus der Kunst in Munich – one of Europe’s most important museums for contemporary art – hosted the exhibition ECM – A Cultural Archaeology. The goal of curators Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller was to show the range of the label’s artistic endeavours in music, graphic art, and photography and its creative interchanges with film, theatre and literature. For this exhibition, Manfred Eicher and Steve Lake created this box-set accentuating directions in ECM's rich musical history. Many themes and streams are touched upon here including the range of composition in the New Series, music for and from films, imaginative historical reconstructions, trans-cultural music, ambient minimalism, and jazz and improvisation of many hues, in a collection with a playing time of more than seven hours.