The best of the ECM label

There is so much really good and well recorded music on the ECM label, but a lot is downright strange. Many of the artists are not well known and the music, new compositions, both the jazz and new label ECM, or classical. It is very hard to gauge what is worth a purchase, because of this.

I do find it interesting, that you can listen to the classical and more avant garde classical material and not find it easy to distinguish the two. Any choice is going to be highly personal, but some suggestions would be helpful.

To start, my personal favourite is
Khmer by Nils Petter Molvaer
My favorites have been Gateway s/t and Gateway 2
ECM label had been for quite a lot. I like it and very often blindly pick up any record with ECM label on it and m'sure I'll simply enjoy that. It's a label that accommodates the best artists and known not only for extraordinary jazz, but neo-classical and neo-world music.
Pat Metheny, Miroslav Vitous, Terje Ripdal, Nana Vasconcielos, Meridith Monk, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden and many more to list...
The best way to enter ECM's rather dense (but musically nutritious) catalog is to initially browse, discover an album or song of interest - then identify the musician(s) who seems to be most responsible for your enjoyment. At that point, use them as a guide to other releases in which they contribute or even lead. A music streaming service like MOG helps aid such sampling - then find it on CD or vinyl when you totally dig it. MOG has lots of ECM - whereas Spotify has none (perhaps some kind of Nordic/Teutonic rift?). and Allmusic guide catalog all players discographies across projects as well.

Being familiar with Nils P-M and his album Khmer - the next easy buy would be his album Ligotage (which was done the same year with very similar material). Before you leave him, check out his projects with Manu Katche as an off ramp to other artists (in particular Neighbourhood). That album is like a modern ECM family tree with lots of musical branches to climb up.

If you simply just dig the vibe of Khmer - then def try Arve Henriksen's album Cartography (in which Nils is present if not featured).

That should get you going.
Enjoy the climb.
My 2 cents...Check out Ralph Towner & Jan Garbarek on ECM - reasonably accessible. Playing off CTo007's suggestion, look at the other musicians they recorded with (e.g., Eberhard Weber) and try their stuff too. Usually, with ECM you get interesting, often beautiful and sometimes challenging music, not to mention great sonics. Would all labels were like ECM.
Anouar Brahem.
The first three Tord Guftavson trio recordings are great. They're a much purer sound than his last couple of records, which added a saxophone.
John Taylor "Rosslyn", George Adams "Sound Suggestions" Bennie Maupin "The Jewel In The Lotus", Jack Dejohnette's Directions "New Rags", Paul Motian, "Le Voyage". That's it for now but there are many many more to suggest.
Glad Grimace resurrected this. ECM should be a permanent discussion topic on A'gon. Add Egberto Gismonti to the list of ECM artists that are worth checking out.
Two of my favorite artists are Dino Saluzzi and
Gianluigi Trovesi. Always great performances and superbly recorded,
even a level above ECM's typically excellent offerings.
Almost all of Keith Jarretts catalog.
I find some of the music on ECM astounding, and some of it boring as heck. My favorite has to be Terje Rypdal. Start out with "Blue" and "Chaser". Then dive deeper into him if you are so inclined.
This is, of course, subjective judgement, but here goes. I've bought ECM for decades, one of my favorite labels. Rockadanny is right, some of their releases are boring though. Some I definitely think aren't boring: Anything by Steve Tibbetts (great guitarist who is always channeling his inner percusionist.) In particular "Safe Journey," "Exploded View," & "A Man About a Horse." John Hassell's "Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street." Marcus Stockhausen/Terje Rypdal/Arild Andersen's "Karta." Charles Lloyd's "Sangam," "Canto," & "Voice in the NIght." Tomasz Stanko "From the Green Hill." Bobo Stenson Trio "War Orphans." Also greatly enjoy Terje Rypdal's entire catalog.
Peter Erskine Trio; As it is.
Beautiful recorded piano trio album.
Fourth album from the subtle Erskine Trio continues to explore space and texture and what the dummer-leader refers to as the "underside of music-making". As on previous showings, pianist John Taylor's still-undervalued compositional skills are to the fore, but Erskine and bassist Danielsson also contribute material - ranging from a waltz to a 12 tone piece - and the tradition of including a Kenny Wheeler piece on each disc is also brought up to date. Down Beat described this as a "Zen" trio; Erskine says "We never solo but we always solo."
Not sure we share the same opinion as to what avant garde classical is but I thought I would share an odd ECM story from this last week, Albert Porter was kind enough to give me one of the few ECM discs that he did not care for-Gismonti's "Danca des Cabecas" and one of the sides is not Gismonti, in fact it is a single track of solo piano, Keith Jarrett maybe. I have been handling vinyl intensively since the early 80's and have only come across such an oddity a few times.
Keith Jarrett; Live at the Blue Note

None mentioned Nils Petter Molvaer around ECM since 1997

The members of his band are also unique and creative musicians such as Eivind Aarset.

Eivind Aarset often in my mind correlates to another similar yet also unique guitarist that had his ECM years which is Bill Frisell. Both of them aren't major ECM artists unlike Gismonti or Jarrett, but definitely worth the elite label of world's most creative musicians.