The object of ECM's handsomely Digipak-aged Rarum series is to have its roster of artists -- past and present -- select their favorite performances on the label. Which leads to the next question: Is the artist always the best judge of his or her own material? With that in mind, Keith Jarrett's choices for his two-CD set, the first volume of this series, are sure to be some of the most interesting, wide-ranging, surprising, and controversial of the whole lot. Listeners have had fair warning -- ECM's previous Jarrett sampler, ECM Works, was also gleefully unpredictable -- but Rarum, Vol. 1: Selected Recordings gives you a much better idea of the staggering variety of Jarrett's interests over a 21-year span than the earlier disc. In his brief liner notes (it would have been nice to have had more memories about each of these selections), Jarrett confesses that he deliberately went for the esoteric; clearly the man is supremely confident that his fans will hear him out. Jarrett opens his treasure chest in a really eccentric way with three excerpts from his clavichord album Book of Ways -- two neo-Baroque, one a bit wearisome. There are no less than five rather engaging swatches from Jarrett's overlooked experimental Spirits album, where he overdubs himself on soprano sax, recorders, piano, and percussion. There is more from Jarrett's piping, edgy soprano saxophone in two excerpts from Invocations -- first in a cloud of reverb, then in a cloud of pipe organ -- and listeners hear one ferociously dissonant excerpt from the Spheres section of the pipe organ album Hymns/Spheres (now a rarity, since only Hymns was issued on CD). Jarrett the jazzman finally breaks out into the open toward the end of disc one with the jagged swinger "The Windup," kicking off a four-song set from his European quartet of the 1970s; on disc two, there is a great gospel-drenched choice from this band, "Late Night Willie." While you almost can't lose with the huge discography of the "standards trio," Jarrett's choices are top-notch -- the down-home title track of "The Cure" and "Bop Be" and "No Lonely Nights" from the June 1994 weekend at New York City's Blue Note club. The American quartet is nowhere to be found, but they did very little recording for ECM, so that's understandable. Finally, the solo piano choices are most curious, for they offer either obscure contemplative snapshots or, in the case of the Munich concert, the interminable avant-garde string-plucking, case-thumping section. There is plenty, then, for Jarrett's divided legions to jaw about, but even so, they may be pleasantly caught offguard by the offbeat directions this set takes.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2