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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
The Chicago-born master drummer hopes that his selection “will bring peace, warmth and joy to the listener”. The warm and joyful duo recording with Keith Jarrett that brought both DeJohnette and Jarrett to ECM in 1971 is reprised here - as are bright moments with Gateway, Mick Goodrick and a succession of Jack’s own bands – New Directions, Special Edition and Oneness, with soloists including Lester Bowie, David Murray and John Abercrombie.
“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 many ways, the last volume in the ECM Rarum series of artist-chosen retrospectives is also one of its finest. Jon Christensen is the label's drummer of drummers. He has played with virtually every major leader on the roster, and his fluid, enigmatic touch has graced ECM's most outstanding recordings. Christensen has the rapacious appetite of an Elvin Jones or Roy Haynes, but combines it with the wondrously light, dancer's touch of a Billy Higgins. The nine tracks here showcase Christensen's uncanny ability to adapt, color, and in some cases even drive the vision of a bandleader toward its flourish.