12 More Days of ECM

12 More Days of vintage ECM jazz Touchstones

On the third gift guide of Christmas my true love gave to me... ECM for eternity. Turtle soup, French horns, calling home, golden bling, geese a-braying, swans a-sheddin', maids a-bilkin', ladies prancin', lords a-freakin’, pipers puffing, and 12 drummers drumming up their best Roy Haynes: 12 additional vintage ECM jazz Touchstones are beginning to sound a lot like Dec. 25. Slim-line Digipaks at slim-line prices make stupendous stocking stuffers of sleek, stereophonic snowflakes.

And Andy Partridge in a peach tree.

Gateway (1975)

Guitar trios on ECM can approach rockist nirvana, the lead instrument here, Jon Abercrombie, a live wire vibrating against Dave Holland's earthquake double-bass and drum physicist Jack DeJohnette. At least that’s the opening “Backwoods Song,” after which the triad’s post-Miles electro exploration rockets the jazz stratosphere. DeJohnette’s 11-minute “Sorcery 1” is self-explanatory.

Collin Walcott, Cloud Dance (1976)

Sitarist/tabla rumbler Collin Walcott calls into service the previous year’s newly-formed Gateway trio, Dave Holland playing Mother Earth on his double-bass, while Walcott’s “Prancing” tabla tans the hide off his searing co-write with Jon Abercrombie, “Scimitar.” An “Eastern Song” tangs and twangs via the session leader’s sitar, symbiosis fully realized on the album’s closing title track. Medicine men.

Marc Johnson, Bass Desires (1985)
Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires, Second Sight (1987)

Band brand and bassist Marc Johnson takes a backseat to the swordplay of Bill Frisell's guitar synthesizer and the liquid modernism of six-string avatar John Scofield. NYC’s Power Station studios boots up the first disc, moving from flanged angles (Coltrane’s “Resolution”) to the trad femme fatal atmospherics of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” Reconvening in Oslo two years later, Bass Desires develops serious Second Sight, beginning with drummer Peter Erskine’s “Sweet Soul,” churning Scofield’s “Twister,” and peaking on Johnson bass solo “Prayer Beads.” Closing Frisell-painted prayer: “Hymn for Her.”

Paul Motion, Conception Vessel (1973)

The drum runner’s debut as session head picks open on “Georgian Bay,” Sam Brown’s nylon strings fluttering flamenco against Charlie Haden’s bass tango and Motion’s bell and cymbal wash. His clanging, banging solo, “Ch’i Energy,” then reminds you whose name adorns this Vessel. The trio’s angular reprise “Rebica” gives way to pianist Keith Jarrett on both the title track and “American Indian: Song of Sitting Bull,” wherein his flute jumps the fire and lands on the lips of Becky Friend, who inflames jangling closer “Inspiration for a Vietnamese Lullaby.” Stormy seas.

Kenny Wheeler, Gnu High (1976)

Keith Jarrett returns in the company of rhythm Gateway Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, all of whom lift Wheeler’s flügelhorn to the heights of Gabriel’s horn-blowing heavens. Gnu High? Spiritually, yes.

Keith Jarrett Trio, Standards Live (1986)
Keith Jarrett Trio, Bye Bye Blackbird (1993)

As thoughtful as Monk arcing toward minimalism, Jarrett loses Holland on double-bass, but gains Gary Peacock, while retaining cymbal sensation Jack DeJohnette on the kit. The pianist’s Paris-hosted live grunts, growls, and cries pace his gilded hands on Standards Live, “Stella By Starlight” and Rodgers & Hart’s “Falling in Love with Love” both early guarantees. His ballet touch on “Too Young to Go Steady” and humorous vocalizations dovetail into cascading notes and DeJohnette’s snare dressing up “The Way You Look Tonight.” Jarrett’s sound effects continue on Bye Bye Blackbird, cut in tribute to Miles Davis during a single session by three former sidemen two weeks after his death in 1991. At 18 minutes, pensive centerpiece “For Miles,” allows the combo to stretch out and then into an energetic take of Monk standard “Straight, No Chaser.” Now Thelonious could scat.

Chick Corea, Children’s Songs (1984)
Chick Corea, Trio Music, Live in Europe (1986)

Chick Corea’s immaculate heart powers his parallel pianism and emotional content so that solo pieces numbered one through 20, all but four under two minutes, fuse together into a school play of wonder and hope. Encored by a brief chamber drama and dedicated to ECM foundation and sole producer Manfred Eichner, Children’s Songs sighs true blue. Reuniting Live in Europe with 1960s mates Miroslav Vitous on bass and energy harness Roy Haynes on drums, Corea leads exquisite Trio Music so as to make his predecessor platter sound like child’s play. His ripe precision imbues these Swiss/German live performances with magic notes that hold your breath for you. Together, these mid-period Corea titles are among ECM’s finest Touchstones.

Shankar, Song for Everyone (1985)

When opening credits cite the name above the title as wielding a 10-string double violin – electric – and a drum machine, the results would seem predictable. Then again, that goes double for the rest of the roll call: Norwegian soprano and tenor saxist Jan Garbarek, and Bombay-born percussion holy men Zakir Hussein and Trilok Gurtu. Song for Everyone isn’t, but with Hussain’s taut tabla and Gurtu’s river of percussion acting as the matte for fellow Indian Shankar’s cutting string drama and Garbarek’s nostalgic billow, the 1980s through the eyes of ECM remains New Wave.

Charles Lloyd, The Call (1993)

“In 1966, when I was a young man journeying in the South of France,” writes holy tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd in his liner note, “a group of mystics with saxophones initiated me into their society. I sat at their feet and imbibed the elixirs. They took me to the grave site of one of their own, Bechet, who had died there in exile. They had names like Harry and Rabbit. Their leader said: ‘Take that boy under your wings – because if he keeps stirring this soup, one day he’ll have something.’”

That’s as perfect a description of the Church of Duke Ellington as exists, but then comes the punch line: “The older I get the less I know, and I don’t know if I have something, but I do know that during this recording they were there.”

Channeling the Orchestra are drum head Billy Hart, double bassist Anders Jormin, and doing his best Edward Kennedy with measured grace, Swedish ice maker Bobo Stenson on the 88s. Free fire breather Lloyd blows Ellingtonia like only Harry Carney and Johnny “Rabbit” Hodges (don’t forget Ben Webster) were once allowed, meltingly. All nine of his originals haunt and enchant as if the greatest band known to music was sitting there smoking, nodding, tapping – razzing. Nine velvet minutes of “Figure in Blue, Memories of Duke, ” 10:44 of “The Blessing” rustling, and 12-minute Lloyd air pocket and tour de force “Brother on a Rooftop” close out what was already the best for last.

Charles Lloyd put in The Call all right: a two karat Touchstone in a 24-karat rose gold setting. Marry mistress.

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