Keith Jarrett, ‘The Köln Concert’ (1975)
The best-selling solo piano album of all time, “The Köln Concert” was recorded live, on an unresonant baby grand that had been rolled onstage in error. But Keith Jarrett adapts, espousing a personal brand of barrelhouse folk-pop pianism that pulls together the warmth of Appalachian music, the insistence of rock and the stubborn intellectualism of free improvisation. G.R.
Pat Metheny, ‘Bright Size Life’ (1976)
Pat Metheny’s astonishingly self-assured debut helped forge a template for modern jazz guitar. His unorthodox, open chord gestures seem to melt into each other, while his lucid melodic runs are imbued with warmth by the young bassist Jaco Pastorius. The free-flowing pair sometimes seems to move as one 10-string instrument, especially on “Unquity Road,” which breathes with the hushed serenity of a Missouri summer night. ANDREW R. CHOW
Steve Reich, ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ (1978)
Something repeats and something else changes throughout this pinnacle of 1970s Minimalism. Steve Reich applied the precision of chamber music and a fascination with the beauty and perceptual effects of phase patterns to the plinking, percussive music from Ghana and Bali that he had studied. He devised a cross-cultural marvel, simultaneously meditative and hyperactive. J.P.
Art Ensemble of Chicago, ‘Nice Guys’ (1979)
A flagship ensemble of the 1970s avant-garde, the Art Ensemble was ludic, irreverent, proudly Afrocentric and yet preternaturally universalist. The group’s layers of horns and percussion invited you into a conversation about the intimacy and implications of sound. That’s in line with ECM’s modus operandi. But the ensemble’s spirited rambles from reggae to swinging bop to rough abstraction? These were something rare to the label. G.R.
Leo Smith, ‘Divine Love’ (1979)
A trumpeter of smoldering grace, Leo Smith (now Wadada Leo Smith) defies standard technique or musical structure, but he always sounds fully embodied. This album is one of Mr. Smith’s finest, a collection of carefully orchestrated, luminous threads (flute, saxophone, vibraphone, bass, other trumpets) rising and exhaling together, following the loose prescriptions of Mr. Smith’s compositions. G.R.
Arvo Pärt, ‘Tabula Rasa’ (1984)
This Estonian composer of radiantly elegiac, spiritually inclined music had been quietly active for years when this recording introduced him to a far broader public. The intense yet immaculate performances, including a shamelessly, pristinely lush “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” still make as good a case as any for works that in less committed hands can simply fade into the moody background. ZACHARY WOOLFE
Paul Motian Trio, ‘It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago’ (1985)
This bass-less trio album shattered any previous conception of what three jazz musicians could create together; it’s an exercise in tactile wizardry. There are Paul Motian’s flighty cymbals, which leave enough space to be airy but not arid; and the saxophonist Joe Lovano’s gasping, guttural tones. But the guitarist Bill Frisell is the most striking musician here for his omnivorous diversity in tone: his guitar is solemnly organ-esque on “In the Year of the Dragon,” squawking with static on “Two Women From Padua,” and Lynch-ian on the eerie, unmoored “Fiasco.” A.R.C.
Egberto Gismonti, ‘Dança dos Escravos’ (1989)
Although he also plays piano and has collaborated widely, on “Dança dos Escravos” the Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti uses only various-sized acoustic guitars, solo and overdubbed, and occasionally his wordless voice. Traditional Brazilian rhythms, Minimalistic motifs, breakneck picking and sighing melody are commingled in pieces that look both inward and far ahead. J.P.
The Hilliard Ensemble, ‘Perotin’ (1989)
ECM’s contributions to the revival of early music over the past half-century have sometimes gone underappreciated, but they’ve been significant, not least in this sensuously solemn, shining disc of works by the medieval master Perotin. Repeating, overlapping, surging, receding, both plangent and smiling, it made perfect sense in the catalog alongside modern Minimalism. Z.W.
Gyorgy Kurtág and Marta Kurtág, ‘Jatekok’ (1997)
Nowhere in the label’s offerings is the coexistence of old and new lovelier than in this disc, which cleverly brought together a broad selection of Gyorgy Kurtág’s agile “Jatekok” miniatures with his Bach arrangements, many of the pieces played in four-handed piano arrangements by Kurtág and his wife, Marta, for 45 minutes of intimate rumination. Z.W.
Andras Schiff, ‘Beethoven Piano Sonatas’ (2004-2008)
From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Schiff offered the equivalent of a university education in Beethoven, performing and giving revelatory lectures on all 32 sonatas in London. These recordings, made in Switzerland and Germany around the same time, demonstrate his scholarship in perfect clarity. Hear him strip away centuries of overinterpretation of the “Moonlight.” BEN SISARIO
Anouar Brahem, ‘The Astounding Eyes of Rita’ (2009)
Anouar Brahem, a composer and oud player from Tunisia, leads a subtle, intent transnational fusion on this album: oud, Middle Eastern hand drums, electric bass and clarinet or bass clarinet. His austere modal melodies guide the group in and out of improvisations that always keep the longer line in mind. J.P.
Credit Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times
Meredith Monk, ‘Songs of Ascension’ (2011)
Meredith Monk’s breakthrough 1981 album “Dolmen Music” helped establish ECM’s contemporary classical division; the singer and composer’s recent work remains a critical part of the label’s aesthetic. And she continues to experiment: On “Songs of Ascension,” Ms. Monk added a string quartet to her core ensemble. During “Burn,” the bandleader arranged kinetic motifs for strings, percussion and bass clarinet alongside chattering vocal pyrotechnics — all while fostering a paradoxical sense of ease. SETH COLTER WALLS
Craig Taborn, ‘Avenging Angel’ (2011)
Among the most remarkable solo piano statements of this millennium, “Avenging Angel” bespeaks the passions of an irrepressibly studious and quietly soulful pianist. Moving from attenuated atmospherics to rigorous propulsion, Craig Taborn displays a gift for arranging and enriching sound; it can be hard to tell where his compositions end and spontaneous invention begins. G.R.
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow, ‘Trios’ (2013)
The pianist Carla Bley’s compositions have been appearing on ECM albums by the likes of Mr. Burton and Paul Bley (her ex-husband) since the 1970s, but she herself did not record for the label until far more recently. “Trios” is a triumphant tour through her book of finely sculpted compositions — sometimes elegiac, sometimes evasive, always distinctly hers. G.R.
Danish String Quartet, ‘Adès/Nørgård/Abrahamsen’ (2016)
Its energy blistering, this ensemble is a valuable addition to a label still clearly on the lookout for important young artists. Especially those whose interests are a bit idiosyncratic: While this debut record was a rich, riveting dip into three important contemporary works, the Danes’ most recent ECM album, released in September, ranged further afield, to their own versions of Nordic folk tunes. Z.W.
David Virelles, ‘Gnosis’ (2017)
David Virelles, a young Cuban pianist, is an avid musical searcher. He brought together a dozen other members to build the Nosotros Ensemble, which moves in many directions on “Gnosis.” Often working in response to Román Díaz’s beacon-like vocals and steadying hand percussion, the group conjures fragility and obstinacy, enigma and hard essence. G.R.