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.

Diversions :: Grails

Grails’ history stretches back to the late 1990s, with the Portland, OR-based collective fearlessly exploring various galaxies over the course of several absorbing LPs. Their latest masterpiece, Anches En Maat, suggests that they’re nowhere near finished with those explorations. Here, Grails dive headlong into a sleek, neon-lit zone — one you can imagine providing the awesome soundtrack for a prime-era Michael Mann flick, with a welcome dose of David Axelrod drama tossed in for good measure.

With a European tour looming, Grails shared some inspirations and influences with Aquarium Drunkard. Heady times await …

Peter Sprague :: Bird Raga

Summer is the time for fusion. No, not the heady thought-provoking churning jazz skirmishes with psychedelia of Herbie Hancock’s early Headhunters or Miles’ brooding early 70s offerings. This calls for truly catchy grooves, more funk than conventional jazz, and beats per minute that soar as high as the mercury. Jaco-era Weather Report fits the bill, as does the seemingly cocaine-fueled filth funk summoned anytime Miroslav Vitous picks up the electric bass. And lest we forget the odysseys of the craft’s perfectionists–Casiopea.

On Bird Raga, guitarist Peter Sprague dives right into this mode.

Wall Matthews :: The Dance In Your Eye

Among a near-endless cycle of unearthing the unsung guitar hero, we come across some that truly branch out beyond the realm of the loner guitar soli adherent. And occasionally, those troubadours manage to keep on kicking long enough to see their music reach a wider audience after, sometimes, decades in obscurity. Wall Matthews is one such survivor.

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.