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on 24 May 2004
ECM's "Rarum: Selected Recordings" series has been excellent, especially in revealing the back catalogue of many of its major artists. This particular release is one of the best, a sampler which can't be faulted and could readily be given to anybody wanting to find out what Metheny's music is about.
Rightly Jazzwise magazine awarded this record one of it rare "5 stars- Essential" ratings, when reviewing it recently. In part this is down to Pat Metheny doing a thoughtful and sensitive job selecting tunes from his extensive and varied range of recordings, made for the German label in the 80's. To many this was the most fruitful period of Metheny's career, when the guitarist was maturing and working with a varied range of influences and fellow musicians. And in part it is down to the great tunes selected - many of which I would have chosen, if given that privilege - which put Metheny into the major league of jazz and jazz rock guitarists! From jazz rock fusion to experimental jazz to straight jazz.
We used to eagerly wait for every new Metheny release on ECM, and this Rarum here clearly illustrates why.
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on 10 February 2004
ECM was my favourite record label in the 1970s, and Pat Metheny my favourite artist on that label (until his shock departure to Geffen), so this greatest-hits compilation is an important album for me, particularly as Pat selected the tracks himself. I've owned his ECM records for many a year -- some in both LP and CD formats -- so I wasn't expecting anything more than a new, remastered light to be shone on old treasures.
The key questions for me, before getting the CD from Amazon, were:
1. Why only a single CD, when Messrs Jarrett and Garbarek got a double CD compilation?
2. What tracks would Pat choose?
3. What would the remastered tracks sound like? (The follow-up question is: why isn't ECM releasing its back-catalogue highlights on SACD and/or DVD-audio?)
Only Manfred Eicher, the genius behind ECM, can answer Q1. My guess is that Garbarek and Jarrett were rewarded for the intense loyalty they have shown to the ECM label from the start. The loss to Geffen in the mid-80s of a guitarist who had the potential to be ECM's biggest-ever star must have been a terrible shock for the German record company. (I wouldn't be surprised if this event helped trigger Eicher's move into more classical territory with Arvo Part etc.) Presumably David Geffen appealed to Metheny's US patriotism and his bank balance.
But Pat's copious liner notes for this compilation -- the longest I've seen in the :rarum series -- do not hint at any bad blood between Metheny and ECM. Metheny is no literary giant, but his notes repeatedly say how much he still enjoys playing many of the tunes selected here. (His anecdote which ends with "We still laugh about that one" is wonderfully mundane, by the way.)

As for Q2, the track selection is, for me, 95% immaculate. I would loved to have Offramp's 'Au Lait' and First Circle's 'Praise', but you have to discard so many masterpieces when the record company gives you just 75 minutes of CD space. (The selection is better inidentally than the 'Works' compilation released in the mid-80s on both CD and LP, which restricted editors to just 50 minutes.)
Q3. The sound quality has improved with digital remastering, but not to the highest standards now being set by SACD with 5.1. As a great fan of ECM's 'chamber music' sound in the 1970s, I have to say that its failure to maintain its sonic lead is my biggest disappointment about the label. ECM LPs used to cost a bit more than other LPs, because they were made from better, heavier label, and more effort was put into production and sonic fidelity. The advent of CD all but eliminated ECM's advantage, and ECM has been caught napping by the arrival of the new SACD and DVD-audio formats, which represent the current ultimate in sound quality.
But that's just me being perfectionist. Whether you're a committed Metheny fan or a new recruit, you're in for a treat with this package.
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on 11 September 2006
I am listening First Circle (Track #7) as I write this review. What a piece of art! It has grown on me as one of my favorite. The best in a CD of masterpieces. The skilled merging of voice and music is just amazing. The CD is also notable (and memorable) for several other pieces such as Bright Size Life (featuring a magnificent Jaco Pastorious), Phase Dance (what a haunting montuno) and others. Worth owning this music even if it costed three times as much.
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on 20 May 2010
The earlier reviewers are all spot-on with their assessments of this excellently balanced CD. The choices represent each facet of his early career on the great ECM label. Distilling his output onto one disc is very difficult (and as has been said, this should have been a double), however Pat has carefully got this tracklist just right. The booklet notes have Pat telling us exactly where he was when he wrote the music and why the particular piece was chosen. Like the majority of Metheny fans, I lean towards the more popular music he's made with the PM Group rather than his excursions into other styles. But here I cannot speak highly enough of the non-group outings: Bright Size Life, Every Day & Lonely Woman. These counter balance the mighty masterworks that are First Circle, Are you going with me? (his best ever track I believe) and It's for you (with the superb keys of Lyle Mays). Pat fans could argue for weeks about what should be on this, and I would have swopped a few tracks around, but reading his reasons I can appreciate the personal importance they hold for him.
This CD, plus the live double: Travels, show off the early years. Go for Letter from Home if you wish to see how confident they became. And if he ever comes to a stage near you (ie within 200 miles), make sure you get a good seat!
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