I've been on a digital kick lately, as I try to eliminate the clutter of CDs, magazines and newspapers from my office and bedroom, but with Christmas 10 days away it seems appropriate to focus on two European jazz labels that create pretty-looking (and sounding) things to go in someone's stocking or under their tree.
As one of the most-celebrated labels in the world, ECM Records holds few surprises for even the casual jazz or new music fan, but this holiday season it's the fortunate loved one who gets a copy of a new ECM 40th-anniversary catalogue produced by Tokyo Kirarasha. Edited by Kenny Inaoka with contributions from a number of Japanese writers—including my friend, U.S.-based pianist Nobu Stowe—the massive guide features small, glossy reproductions of every ECM release, as well as complete credits, listed separately in both English and Japanese. It might be the ultimate gift for ECM obsessives, and makes a fine companion to Horizons Touched, the book of essays ECM released through Granta a couple of years ago.
My second gift suggestion is slightly less esoteric, but no less interesting and beautiful. Thanks to a new partnership between Naxos of America Inc. and the German label Jazzwerkstatt, the latter will now have distribution in the U.S. Originally the name of West Germany's largest jazz festival, Jazzwerkstatt features recordings from the broadcast archives of East Germany's Rundfunk der DDR, live performances from the revamped Jazzwerkstatt Berlin-Brandenburg festival, and new works by Berlin-based artists.
The first three Jazzwerkstatt/Naxos releases feature small bands led by Dave Liebman, Perry Robinson and Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell, and they have the kind of esthetic values—including striking cover images and cardboard slipcovers—as ECM. Since these debut releases only hit the street on November 16th, chances are you'll be dropping a nice surprise on your jazz-loving gift recipient, and hipping him/her to a bunch of great new things to anticipate.
Addendum: Nobu just informed me that the ECM guide is best ordered directly from ECM if you live in Europe, and from this site if you live somewhere else.