ECM Records All-Star Night :: The Village Gate, New York City, January 1976

The most beautiful sound next to silence comes to NYC. This “all-star night” of ECM-related performers is a delight, with some unique performances and collabs. Manfred Eicher’s esteemed label had been around since the late 1960s, but Keith Jarrett’s blockbuster surprise, The Koln Concert, brought ECM closer to the mainstream in 1975. Jarrett wasn’t there for this evening’s celebration, but the All-Stars shine bright without him.

Pat Metheny Group (ECM, 1978)

Guitarist Pat Metheny recently described music as a “carrot”, “I am still figuring out what the stick is,” he concluded to Ross Simonini in The Believer. That idea of constant investigation permeates Metheny’s nearly 50 year music career as well as his first s/t LP with his Pat Metheny Group.

John Surman :: Upon Reflection (ECM)

Here’s something to get lost in, the hypnotic world of British reedman John Surman, courtesy of his 1979 ECM effort, Upon Reflection. Recorded in Oslo, with production helmed by Manfred Eicher, the recording finds Surman in widescreen form experimenting with sequencers and synthesizers in addition to his duties working bass clarinet and baritone/soprano saxophone.

Keith Jarrett / Jack Dejohnette :: Ruta and Daitya

Recorded in 1971, and released two years later via ECM, Keith Jarrett’s collaboration with drummer Jack DeJohnette marks one of the last times the keyboardist would flex electric. Fresh off his two year stint behind the boards in Miles Davis’s electric band, Ruta and Daitya features seven duets produced by label head Manfred Eicher. With a palette skirting between sinuous electric funk and acoustic washes of percussion, flute and piano, the forty-one minute runtime does well to maintain a cohesive identity without feeling aesthetically schizophrenic.

Wadada Leo Smith :: Fire Illuminations

Late last year Wadada Leo Smith turned 81. The trumpeter and composer has been making records since the late 1960s when he was part of Chicago’s AACM, and he’s recorded for everyone from ECM to Tzadik, doing everything from solo trumpet records to string quartets. But as he gets to an age when most slow down, Smith’s been even more prolific than ever. Last year saw seven discs of string quartets, plus another five of duos between him and musicians like Jack DeJohnette and Andrew Cyrille. And now there’s another set: Fire Illuminations, a digital only release coming out via Smith’s own Kabell Records on March 31.

The Greg Foat Group :: The Blue Lotus

Greg Foat’s latest, Blue Lotus, is as good an entry point as any. Credited to the Greg Foat Group, his longstanding ensemble with Rob Mach, Trevor Walker, Phil Achille and Eric Young, Blue Lotus also features veteran UK soprano saxophonist Art Themen and the ferocious drummer Morgan Simpson of the shit-hot UK avant-rock band black midi. Foat himself, of course, mans a formidable Wakeman-esque bank of electric piano, vintage synthesizers, ring modulators and space echo units.

Diversions :: Erik Hall On Simeon ten Holt And Steve Reich

In 2020 Erik Hall released his version of Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich–the first in a planned trilogy of classical minimalist interpretations by the Chicago musician. This month sees the release of the second installment in the series, Hall’s take on Canto Ostinato by the late Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt, an intimate, hour-long solo performance consisting of multitracked grand pianos, electric piano, and organ. For this edition of Diversions, Hall digs into the inspirations behind the series thus far …

Colin Wilkie & Shirley Hart :: Wild Goose

To be blunt, Wild Goose won’t be for everyone. Folk-jazz crossovers are a tough sell. Even tougher to execute. Especially in a way that doesn’t come across as forced or corny. And there is little to no nuance between the British folk stylings of Wilkie and Hart, and the post-bop, nearing Free Jazz blowouts of the musicians joining them. Imperfect, the album remains an ambitious and visionary album fifty years later.

Arve Henriksen :: Chiaroscuro

Meditative, yet engaging, Chiaroscuro plays as more of a continuous statement piece than as a collection of individual songs. Widescreen and cinematic, Henriksen’s vocals float intermittently across the album’s 42 minute run-time amidst a cascade of hand drums, ambient trumpet (reminiscent of Jon Hassell), and sparse sound design.