ECM Touchstones ’50 for the 50th’ (ECM) 5/5

This year heralds a landmark for ECM Records; 50 years of recorded music. Almost unprecedented in the modern era, survival alone would have been no mean feat, but to have continuously been producing pioneering music for half a century is truly remarkable. Founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, his vision and dedication have led the label to this incredible milestone. From very humble beginnings ECM has now become an instantly recognisable brand, with its consistent ethos, sound, and cover art, the quality of the product perfectly complements the quality of the music itself. To celebrate this anniversary, ECM have selected 50 albums to reflect upon the journey so far. This “Touchstone” series of 50 reissues, highlights a wide selection of albums made along the way, including many recordings which now count as milestones in the history of jazz and improvisation. Presented in cardboard sleeves, with the stunning sound and excellent artwork we have over the years become accustomed to, these albums are available for the same price as the previous edition.

The first group of 25 discs was released in January, with the second set of 25 released in May. As one might expect, the selected albums cover a wide range of recordings and artists, some perhaps obvious, but others less so, including some very pleasant surprises. For myself, having grown up discovering jazz through labels like ECM, the journey has been quite a personal one at times. As with many of us, listening to music is an integral part of our human DNA, and rediscovering some of the wonderful music presented with “Touchstones” brings back many memories. And then there are the new adventures to be found, unexpected little gems that spark a new fire within… there’s always a thrill to hearing fresh, creative music, and ECM continues to provide the beauty and the excitement to this day.

Not only does “Touchstones” feature some iconic albums, with legendary artists such as Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette, et al, but equal prominence is given to some of the lesser immediately recognisable artists, including Mick Goodrick, Leo Smith, Steve Tibbetts, John Abercrombie and Enrico Rava, to name but a few. There are some classic albums featured; including Keith Jarrett’s “Standards Vol. 1”, Pat Metheny’s “80/81”, Kenny Wheeler’s “Double Double You”, Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson’s “Witchi Tai To” and Jack DeJohnette’s “New Directions”. Some of my all-time favourite albums are also featured, the likes of Terje Rypdal’s “Blue”, Bobo Stenson’s “War Orphans”, Peter Erskine’s “Juni”, Gary Burton/Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence” and Steve Kahn’s “Trance”. And I’ve also discovered some new gems; Bill Connors’ “Of Mist and Melting”, Steve Swallow’s “Home”, Miroslav Vitous’ “Journey’s End”, Arild Andersen’s “The Triangle” and Steve Tibbetts’ “Northern Song”. There’s something for everyone, as the saying goes. And long may the ECM journey continue.

In keeping with the spirit of the “Touchstones” releases, it has been a pleasure to put together an ECM playlist, featuring some of my own personal favourites from the last 50 years. Some, but not all of the tunes I’ve chosen, are featured on the “Touchstones” reissues. I hope they bring back fond memories or ignite a new flame or two for you, just as they have done, and continue to do so for me.

Stephen Micus – The Western Gate (from ‘White Night’ 2019)
Arild Andersen – A Song I Used To Play (from ‘If you Look Far Enough’ 1992)
Jack DeJohnette / Ravi Coltrane / Matt Garrison – Alabama (from ‘In Movement’ 2016)
Charles Lloyd – The Blessing (from ‘The Call’ 1993)
Keith Jarrett – Dedicated To You (from Standards in Norway 1989)
Tomasz Stańko – Morning Heavy Song (from ‘Bosonossa And Other Ballads’ 1993)
Pat Metheny – Unquity Road (from ‘Bright Size Life’ 1976)
Anouar Brahem / Dave Holland / Jack DeJohnette / Django Bates – La Nuit (from ‘Blue Maqams’ 2017)
Paul Motian ‎- Cathedral Song (from ‘Lost In A Dream’ 2010)
Charlie Haden / Jan Garbarek / Egberto Gismonti ‎– Folk Songs (from ‘Folk Songs’ 1981)
Kenny Wheeler – Foxy Trot (from ‘Double, Double You’ 1983)
Jan Garbarek Quartet – Beast of Kommodo (from ‘Africa Pepperbird’ 1970)
Terje Rypdal – Transition (from ‘Chaser’ 1985)
Bobo Stenson – Send In The Clowns (from ‘Goodbye’ 2005)
Espin Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard – 1974 (from ‘Perfectly Unhappy’ 2018)
Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano – Song of Praise (from ‘Mostly Coltrane’ 2009)
Jan Garbarek / Keith Jarrett / Palle Danielsson / Jon Christensen – ‘Long As You Know You’re Living Yours (from ‘Belonging’ 1974)
Jan Garbarek-Bobo Stenson Quartet – Witchi Tai To (from ‘Witchi-Tai-To’ 1973)
Zakir Hussain – Sabah (from ‘Making Music’ 1987)
Pat Metheny – Every Day (I Thank You) (from ‘80/81’ 1980)

Mike Gates